Tablets are starting to transform the dusty business of scientific and medical journals, boosting renewal rates and advertising revenues while giving publishers valuable new data on which articles and advertisements are being read.
Nancy McKinstry, chief executive of Wolters Kluwer, said the Dutch publisher was shifting development spending to mobile applications and analytics, having seen big increases in usage in the six months since it launched its first tablet applications.
"Surveys suggest that 40 per cent of the print product is read, but with iPad apps we know for a fact that 65 per cent of the product is read," Ms. McKinstry said. "The more customers use the product, the more they renew," she added.
Tablet apps have "become an integral part of our product offering and a real driver [of revenues]," said Michael Hansen, chief executive of Elsevier Health Sciences, part of Reed Elsevier.
Applications using video, audio and animations are also boosting advertising revenues, which account for about 30 per cent of Wolters Kluwer's journal revenues.
The company is seeing users spending between 10 and 45 seconds watching video ads – "the equivalent of a 30-second [TV] ad," Ms. McKinstry said.
Pharmaceutical ad spending is down 16 per cent year on year, she said, but Wolters Kluwer was faring better than rivals. "I think it's a way to potentially rejuvenate the ad model in pharma," she said.
Professionals' tablet usage has prompted more sweeping change in some business-to-business publishing categories than in consumer-facing media.
Karen Abramson, chief executive of Wolters Kluwer's medical research business, cited Manhattan Research data showing that 62 per cent of U.S. clinicians own a tablet and 89 per cent use a tablet or smartphone between patient consultations.
Reed Elsevier, which claims about 15 per cent of the scientific, technical and medical publishing applications in Apple's App store, has seen mobile users access video three times as much as PC users.
"It reinforces the business model in the sense that if you can show usage, you clearly have a much better basis for your subscription renewals," Mr. Hansen said, adding that usage of the apps on Apple devices is outstripping other platforms by at least 10 to one.
Publishers said they still saw a future for print journals, typically provided free with membership subscriptions to medical societies.
"We still have a lot of customers who want the print product," Ms. McKinstry said, but Ms. Abramson added that she knew of two large societies that were debating whether to stop giving out print journals in the next two years.
At a recent trade show, the crush of plastic surgeons wanting to see a new application caused Wolters Kluwer's booth to collapse, Ms. McKinstry said: "Nothing's happened in this space in 100 years that's this exciting."