Monday, April 19, 2010

Pixel Mags brings the Pottery Barn catalog to the IPad; app development as a form of custom publishing

Pixel Mags is already a major vendor for magazine publishers who want to bring their magazines to the smart phones or the iPad, with over 100 apps in the iTunes store.  Now the company has become a kind of custom publisher by bringing the family of Pottery Barn catalogs to the iPad.
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An app for a major cataloger is both brilliant and logical. The iPad will be used by many owners as a leisure reading tool -- and browsing catalogs is certainly a leisure time activity for many.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Pixel Mags tested their app because it is an absolute mess. Pages stutter across the screen, it is impossible to flip from one page to another. In short, this app is a disaster and is in desperate need of updating.

(Pixel Mags should be applauded for securing the deal with Pottery Barn. I always found that working with Williams-Sonoma was . . . well, not easy. So it is a bit strange that the company would have allowed an app to go out with their name on it that works so poorly. Too bad, I'd love to get my Williams-Sonoma catalog on my iPad -- but not like this.)

There is no need to embarrass Pottery Barn or Pixel Mags more by showing screenshots on the home page, but if you are interested, there are a few screen captures after the jump. When, or if, Pixel Mags fixes and enhances this app I will be happy to provide an update.

But there are more problems with this app beyond the programming -- believe it or not. It starts right on the opening image. In the lower right hand corner of the app is an ugly Pixel Mag logo. Why is it that companies that do this kind of work for customers feel they have the right to brand themselves? I am quite sure the people at Pottery Barn or their agency spent a lot time designing their catalog (or in this case, the splash page) -- without someone else's logo, I am quite sure.

From the perspective of a publisher, what is Pixel Mags doing for Pottery Barn? In a way, isn't this custom publishing?

In traditional custom publishing situations, a company works with an established publisher because the publisher has a printer contract, production capability, content resources, etc. In tablet publishing, however, who owns all these capabilities? The developer.

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When you open the Pottery Barn app you are required to sign into a Pixel Mag account, quite a shock for someone who thought they were dealing with Pottery Barn.

For a large publishing house, serious about developing their own apps, or being able to continue to service their major advertisers in New Media, the solution may simply be to buy a company like Pixel Mags or Handmark. But in lieu of that, a publisher will need to develop their own production teams in this area. I've yet to hear of a media company going this route, however.
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After completing the download of the Pottery Barn catalog, the app suddenly gives me a warning that it needs to download more.

If I were a publisher I would not worry too much about Pixel Mags as competition -- currently their apps for Pottery Barn, Dwell, MacUser and others are getting slammed by iPad users. The apps crash and are buggy in the extreme.

But the issue here is who owns the future of tablet publishing. If publishers do not wake up, and fast, they will find that they are no longer really publishers but simply content providers for the new breed of publisher -- the developer.