For the magazine industry, Apple's iPad isn't just a new gadget -- it's an opportunity to get readers to do what they have been reluctant to do: Pay for digital content.
Magazines ranging from Wired, born in the digital age, to National Geographic, first published in 1888, are moving aggressively to reinvent themselves for the iPad and other tablet computers coming to market.
They envision a new product that combines the feel of a traditional magazine -- with the same eye-catching graphics and design that keeps readers engaged -- with the immediacy and multimedia of the Web.
The iPad is "warmer than a computer, it's more intimate," said David Griffin, recently named to the new position of executive editor for electronic publishing for National Geographic and National Geographic Traveler magazines.
"You're not jumping to another Web page, you're not thrown into another environment, you don't break the spell or the mood you're in while taking in this information," he said.
And perhaps just as importantly, publishers see a new way to get readers to pay for digital content instead of plucking stories off the Web for free.
It's far too early to predict how magazine readers will respond. A survey by Retrevo Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif., company that operates a consumer electronics shopping site, found that 58 percent of respondents said they don't see a need to buy an iPad, while another 38 percent said the price -- $499 to $829 -- is too steep.
Still, Apple's early success, with 2 million iPads sold in just the first two months, is giving the magazine industry hope. Most publishers are at least experimenting with the new medium, and even if they're not, they're watching very closely.
For Wired, "I think this is the future of the magazine, this is the future of the company and maybe this is the future of the industry," said editor-in-chief Chris Anderson. "This platform makes real sense to us as magazine-makers."
By June 4, 72,526 copies of Wired's first iPad app edition had been downloaded since its release May 26, and Anderson said sales "continue to surpass all expectations." Some readers have complained that at $4.99, the app costs the same as the printed edition, but Wired will introduce different pricing and subscription plans later this year.
An exception to the slump that has hit the magazine industry, Wired is coming off its best year ever, ending 2009 with 754,574 subscribers. But the magazine is looking toward the future as readers continue to gravitate to the Web and mobile devices.
Using technology from Zinio LLC, an electronic magazine publisher, National Geographic had a free iPad edition ready for the device's April release. The edition, covering the world's water issues, included video and interactive graphics.
In May, the magazine covered the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington, although the print edition was completed before Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano erupted.
But the iPad edition included an updated Eyjafjallajokul photo slide show, along with an animated version of a graphic detailing the rebirth of the devastated ecosystem around Mount St. Helens.
National Geographic is still experimenting with ideas. "We haven't even gotten into three-dimensional mapping," Griffin said.
At the Sporting News, a biweekly sports magazine that started in 1886 as a newspaper covering baseball, the iPad has already "flipped our newsroom on its head," said President and Publisher Jeff Price.
The company now positions its mobile edition, Sporting News Today, as a separate publication.
Sporting News Today, which also uses Zinio technology, is automatically updated by 6 a.m. daily. It also has a scoreboard that at a touch pulls up video highlights and photo galleries of the reader's favorite teams.
Meanwhile, the printed Sporting News has switched focus to cover more forward-looking stories and in-depth interviews with players and coaches.
The company has attracted about 200,000 digital readers through a free trial, and found that 10 percent to 20 percent are willing to pay the $2.99 monthly subscription once the free period ends, "a very healthy response," Price said.
There are other examples of how the iPad is stimulating more creativity at magazines, both on the content and business side, said Jeanniey Mullen, an executive vice president for Zinio.
For example, Zinio is working with Rolling Stone magazine on a digital edition that embeds audio with its list of the top 500 songs of all time, with a way to purchase the songs on iTunes.
And, she said, Macy's placed digital ads in several iPad versions of magazines, like Marie Claire and Redbook, which are published by Chronicle owner Hearst Corp. When a reader clicks on the ad, the retailer's summer catalog is opened.