Flipboard is ‘head-on competitor’ on Economist’s road to all-digital

The Economist’s CEO thinks news publishing will go all-digital at some point in the near- to mid-term.

“Print circulation is at record highs,” Andrew Rashbass told the Paley Center’s international council in Madrid on Thursday.

“We’re holding on to it as long as possible – but my view of what’s possible is more pessimistic than a lot of other people’s…

It’s not fashionable to say it, but I think, frankly, it will be all digital. I don’t know when that will be exactly, but the idea that mass printing of paper will be around in 25 years is odd.”

Rashbass’ excited realisation at The Economist is, after years of trying to find a viable model for the Economist.com website, it is the linear and packaged “lean-back” experience of tablet publishing – more akin to familiar print magazine publishing – which gives the title its greatest possible digital manifestation and its best shot of online business success.

As titles like The Economist go there, some pure-play digital services like Flipboard go in the same direction, aggregating their content in the same way many publishers complain the web has done. So will publishers be disaggregated on tablets in the same way many have been on the web, I asked Rashbass?

“They didn’t ask me (to include our content) and, if they did, I’d probably have said ‘no’,” he replied.

“It’s not a creative reimagining in some way – it’s a head-on competitor. I don’t think it’s that significant, the (Economist.com) team obviously felt they wanted to do it. Let’s see – I’m happy to see experimentation and change minds later.

“But you’re heading down a route we’ve seen before – giving the opportunity to extract value to somebody else in an area that should be our own – so Flipboard is problematic.”

The Economist has a branded presence on Flipboard, with content taken from Economist.com rather than the magazine. No ads were visible when last checked by paidContent.

Rashbass declared himself “relaxed” about Apple’s 30 percent commission on its iPad edition, however:

“I don’t find the 30 percent problem problematic,” he said. “The majority of people in this room have always worked through third parties – whether through newsstands or other things. Even we have always have a newsstand presence.”