I suspect there's still a case for Flipboard. But the right metric isn't scale, or reach. It's about conversion — when a publisher like TPM is able to hook a Flipboard user into reading often enough that he or she winds up visiting the site outside of the app.
Marshall is far more skeptical than I am that that conversion ever happens. People who use Flipboard use it for a reason, he argues, and that reason makes it less likely that they will hop on their computers to visit TPM's homepage. What makes this calculation so challenging for publishers is that there's no good way to tell whether Flipboard is a replacement for Web browsing or a supplement to it.
That's not to say we don't have any evidence to go on. The Pew Research Center's 2012 report on the media industry found that nearly a quarter of news consumers use at least two devices to get their information. Almost a fifth use a PC/tablet combination. Users aren't abandoning older technologies, the study concludes. "Instead, their news experience widens and deepens."
If those industry-wide numbers hold for Flipboard users, at least some of them may be successful converts, leaping from TPM's content on the tablet to its content on the Web and vice versa. But to know for sure, you'd need a tracking solution sophisticated enough to be able to say, "This person began reading TPM on Flipboard and now, six months later, they're doing far more of their TPM consumption on the Web."
It's a technically (and ethically) difficult problem that requires tying various devices to the same owner. It so happens that advertisers are developing just these techniques. While they may raise new questions about consumer privacy, they could also help journalists learn new lessons about their industry.