Much has been made of Apple’s selling a whopping seven million iPads a couple of months around the holidays. However, the number of iPads in the market is still only a fraction of what Internet users represented in 1997, let alone 2010. More telling will be if the iPad, and tablets at large, will be able to saturate the market the way that the Internet, newspapers, magazines, and televisions were able to become a mainstay of the modern household. It doesn’t help that digital magazines are less a technological revolution than a portable iteration of something that already exists. After that hurdle, however, the iPad will still need to sort out its closed app marketplace, Apple’s limited support for subscriptions, and nationally declining print magazine sales.
The final test for iPad magazines will be whether, like newspapers and magazines and blogs and even Gutenberg’s press, people will become habituated to its new format. The success of the iPad will likely come down to whether we buy its distribution model and accept it into the culture, or decide that iPads, tablets, and their magazines, really are just a gimmick.
*Note: This sentence originally read: “The mentality that paper was precious stuck right through to the infancy of the newspaper age in the 1700s. Then Gutenberg came along and made books and other printed materials cheaper, faster, and easier to make.” It has been changed for clarity.