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Bonnier/CP+B Research Reveals Tablets Radically Alter Magazine Expectations and Behaviors

San Francisco, CA — In the first phase of a joint initiative to reinvent digital magazine advertising, Bonnier R&D and top ad agency CP+B launched a consumer research study to find out how people consume media—particularly digital magazines—on tablet devices like the iPad. The findings of the study suggest that touchscreen tablets completely change user expectations and behaviors around magazine content.

The study was conducted in three U.S. cities, using 15 focus groups comprising consumers of magazines, magazine websites and iPads. Participants were observed as they navigated various digital magazines from publishers including Bonnier, Condé Nast and Hearst. During in-depth interviews, users discussed their experiences with traditional magazines, magazine websites, and digital magazine apps on tablet devices.

"What surprised us most was that when we put a digital magazine in front of people, they didn't treat it like a traditional magazine at all," said Lindsey Allison, associate director of the CP+B research team. "Tablet behavior is so new that we were able to watch it evolve people's relationship with magazine content literally before our eyes."

The findings from the CP+B/Bonnier study will be used to develop digital magazine ad formats specifically for touchscreen tablets, to meet the needs of users, publishers and advertisers. A pilot series of these innovative new ads will debut in Popular Science+ in late spring 2011, built by CP+B for Bonnier's Mag+ digital magazine platform.

"We are extremely excited about this research, as it revealed new consumer behaviors that will inform the way we make digital magazine content in the future, and transform the way we approach advertising," said Bonnier R&D program director Megan Miller, who is leading the project.

Among the findings were the following eight insights on user behavior and consumption of tablet magazines.

1. A NEW TABLET VERNACULAR: "iPad" is a verb.

Study participants saw using their tablets as an end in itself. They said they considered themselves "doers" rather than "readers," and that the activity they engaged in wasn't "reading," "playing," or "surfing"—they were simply using the iPad. One focus group even suggested the need for a new term for this experience: "iPadding."

2. A NEW DECISION HIERARCHY: The decision process for engaging with a digital magazine is radically different than with a paper magazine.

People have traditionally picked up magazines during downtime or for a specific purpose: when they want to relax, read on an airplane, or find ideas about a specific topic like wedding dresses, interior design, or what gifts to buy for the holidays.

But when "iPadding," researchers found that users pick up the tablet first and then decide what to do with it, marking a departure from the traditional user path toward engaging with magazine content.

The new decision hierarchy also points toward a new competitive set for digital magazines. Publishers must consider that they are now not only competing for consumer attention with other media, but with the full ecosystem of apps and native tablet functionalities.

3. A SENSE OF OWNERSHIP: People feel pride of ownership around their curated collection of apps.

Study participants talked about websites using words that suggested a journey: "visit," "go to," etc. And they expressed satisfaction with the idea that online they are merely visitors to an established "place."

But on handheld devices, they used language that expressed ownership, such as "my apps." Participants expressed a desire to collect and curate apps, and an awareness that their selections communicate information about their tastes and interests. They revealed that they were more likely to download an app that they felt added value to, or extended the capabilities of, their tablet devices.

4. A FEELING OF PRIVACY: Tablets are highly personal devices.

Whereas early iPad research suggested that consumers share their devices among friends and family (perhaps a natural reaction to a completely new technology), the CP+B/Bonnier study revealed that user behavior seems to be evolving in the direction of a highly personal, single-user device like cell phones. Study participants expressed feelings of identity and privacy around their app collections and hesitation to share them with people outside their closest contacts.

5. A USE CASE FOR PAPER: Even tablet users still read paper magazines.

Study participants said that digital magazines aren't entirely replacing purchases of the paper variety, even among heavy iPad users. Use cases for paper include impulse purchases at the newsstand or scenarios when there's a risk their devices might be damaged or stolen, such as at the beach or in the gym.

This finding correlates with a recent survey of Popular Science+ readers, which showed that 32.9% of people who had downloaded the app also purchase issues from the newsstand.

6. AN AFFINITY FOR ADVERTISING: People appreciate ads when they're relevant and beautiful.

The study also found that advertising, when relevant to the content and the user's own interests, is a welcome part of the magazine experience. Participants said that when they're passionate about a topic, advertising doesn't interrupt, but adds value. Some of the positive words used to describe advertising included "artistic," "informative," "inspiring," and "fashionable."

7. A BIT OF CONFUSION: People can't always tell the difference between ads and editorial content.

Participants revealed that they sometimes have difficulty distinguishing ads from editorial content in digital magazines—particularly when it comes to product reviews. In a tablet environment, each page stands alone and there's less context to help the reader orient herself. This presents an important design challenge for publishers: there should be clear visual distinctions between ads and edit, and both need to add value to the user experience.

8. A CATALYST FOR ACTION: People use digital magazines as exploration springboards.

Participants favored app features that facilitate exploration, and expressed frustration around content that seemed like a "dead end." They communicated that they didn't want pop-ups or interruptions while reading, but they appreciated supplementary online content that allowed them to dig deeper into the topics that interested them.

Researchers concluded that an important success factor for digital magazines will be the extent to which they propel users from inspiration to action.