Five Visions of the Magazine App

The Guardian on Friday had a convenient round up of some of the YouTube demos of magazine or newspaper concept apps. There were five demos, here they are (with a few comments):

  1. Adobe Wired demo. This is a concept, but it has substance. Adobe and Wired have done some real work to realise the concept. The problem is that it is predicated on Adobe Air technology which certainly will not be a reliable way to deploy apps on the iPad/iPhone. Of this demo John Battelle has the sour observation: “Except the truth is, the app was developed by Adobe and Wired engineers using InDesign and Air, which run on operating systems that are open and allow anyone to play as long as the code compiles correctly (this is true for Windows, Mac, Linux…but not the iPhone or iPad).” John is sour at Apple, not complaining about Adobe or Wired.
  2. BERG and Bonnier demo (a bit long, 8 mins) Another design concept working at a high level of abstraction. They have some strong ideas, but there would be a huge overhead needed to shift magazines into this form of distribution. Berg envisage apps which will support two different methods of reading (roughly ‘immersive’ and ‘picture-driven’). The presenter also makes the very interesting claim that “successful digital reading experiences” (blogs, email, Instapaper which suggest that) “scrolling systems are more appropriate for what we are dealing with”. So Berg advocate vertical rather than horizontal navigation for the article, but horizontal navigation for moving through the magazine’s separate stories. In effect we have a matrix model where the story runs down the screen and the separate parts of the magazine are laid out along the horizontal dimension. I find it truly bizarre that designers are now suggesting that the iPad requires horizontal and vertical navigation. Just when we have a screen large enough that we dont actually need to scroll a single page in both axes!
  3. iPad Demo. This is the one that matters! But it is too short to be very informative. There is a very brief glimpse of the New York Times demo for an iPad app as showcased at the iPad launch. It will be interesting to see if there is a complete New York Times solution available in early April when the device reaches consumers. It will be very interesting to see what other newspaper or magazine apps are available on the intro system.
  4. Sports Illustrated Demo. This one I like, and much of it is realistically do-able. But I have the horrible feeling that the designers and programmers who worked on this project were assuming that they would be able to deliver Flash-based apps. That is not going to happen. They should also forget about their swimsuit edition. That can be second phase (other producers can do that stuff better, and probably raunchier, than sports journalists).
  5. De Telegraaf — the Dutch newspaper. As the Guardian journalist (Mercedes Bunzl) notes this is “the most realistic approach for most publishers in terms of work flow.” Because it is really a re-packaging of the web site. Precisely: there is the rub, if you are merely re-packaging your free web site for the iPad, it will not be possible to sell an app. The iPad will be very good for browsing the web.

What conclusions can we draw from these ‘demo’s’? The first conclusion is that Apple has succeeded in raising enormous expectations for the iPad for magazines and newspapers, and it seems unlikely that any of these ‘demo’s’ except the official Apple ones will be running on the iPad in the early months. Apple has raised extraordinary expectations so there had better be some good examples of what can be achieved. The big magazine and newspaper companies will find it very difficult to leverage their work-flow and their tight creative deadlines to create timely offerings for a revolutionary platform. The second conclusion that I draw is that the designers and technologists who work for these media companies are thinking too much about how the revolution will change their ‘product’ (Scott Dadich, Creative Director of Wired focuses on the fact that the “technology will enable us to view and consume media in an entirely different way”). Maybe. But another way of looking at this revolution is this: the revolution will enable us to read and consume print media in much the same way, but to use books and magazines in a new way. It is really quite dangerous to tell designers that the iPad gives them a completely fresh opportunity to re-think what the magazine/the book is. The designers who want to take advantage of the revolution should not be trying to redesign the product, they should be thinking about how we can use the product in a completely fresh way. Think not about the book or the magazine in isolation, but about the network in which it will be digitally embedded. That is what will make it different and very useful.

One more point. We have an interest to declare. We think that digital editions can be delivered which do not in the slightest disrupt the publishers complex work-flow. Exact Editions already has several apps running on the iPhone and they will be running on the iPad (even better). They also all offer in-app purchasing for subscriptions. Any publisher who wants to sell magazines or newspapers in the iTunes eco-system has to offer in-app purchasing. It works and it is very easy. Try the Congleton Chronicle, The Spectator, Athletics Weekly or Standpoint if you want to get a sense of how a newspaper or magazine can work as a digital resource, in its exact entirety as an app. Since it is a freemium offering, Standpoint would be a good first choice

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