Friday, June 11, 2010

Sideways (2): The iPad magazine

This is the second of three posts concerning Sideways 10.06.

While its new magazine will not be the first magazine to appear on the iPad, Sideways LLC's new iPad app may well be the first magazine exclusively designed and written for the iPad -- certainly that is the magazine's claim.
Edited by James Sweeney, formerly an editor with trade publisher Advanstar, Sideways 10.06 promises to publish monthly, I assume by issuing a new app each month. The app costs $3.99 to download, a modest amount for a magazine containing no advertising. But as mentioned in my previous post, the company has multiple reasons for publishing this first magazine.

Being a software company first, and a publishing company second, means that the company will be dependent on its editor, as well as its new COO, Eliza Wing, formerly president and CEO of, to drive the content direction. In the meanwhile,  the tech and graphics teams will experiment with the form and capabilities inherent in the iPad.

Possibly because is not coming from print, the magazine does not launch in the traditional way. Instead, the app opens onto the first article, as well as a content index bar, instead of a cover. This avoids having to wow the reader with eye-candy, but misses the opportunity to emphasis the major stories in the edition. By launching to what is essentially the TOC (if in landscape mode) the app makes all the stories in the edition of equal importance. In portrait mode the situation is worse as the app opens to Sweeney's review of iPhone apps released that have tie-ins to the World Cup (which opened today), with only a small button in the upper left-hand corner that brings in the contents index. If you are going to open a magazine directly into an article that article better blow you away.
The landscape versus portrait mode shows that each article if formatted once, with the column width exactly fitting the portrait mode, but when turned the added space on the left then fills with the content index. In other words, rather than having two layers of content, the app sticks to one layer. (In contrast, the Wired app, with two layers, brings up different layouts depending on whether you are in portrait or landscape mode. Some users have complained about the huge size of the Wired app, but when you consider that the download contains multiple layouts, plus all the rich media already downloaded so that offline reading is possible, you can see that the file size would have to be very large. In contrast, the Sideways app is only 2.7 MB in size.)

The article itself brings up some interesting points. The article reviews five World Cup apps, written and formatted very much like I would do here at TNM -- with screenshots from the iPhone apps. But the app does not hard set the copy, meaning that the user must have an Internet connection to read the magazine. Turning off my Wi-Fi, then opening the app reveals a blank shell. I find this a strange choice -- after all, this app won't be updated with a new issue, why not allow for offline reading? That also means that this is essentially a news reader app, bringing in content from the server when opened. That would allow for corrections and additions. This would allow, for instance, a change to this first story to include the Handmark app for (previewed here) as well as the 14 paid soccer apps, and the eight free apps released since the Sideways app appeared in iTunes yesterday (by the time you read this post there will probably be even more).
Thus the dangers of hard setting iPad copy in a news app, it will quickly be as outdated as print. But since this is bringing in copy from the server does that mean that it can and will be updated like a website? (I'm not speaking necessarily about this particular app, but iPad news apps in general).

The Financial Times app may provide a good model: at open the app brings in the latest edition of the website. A button, however, allows you to download the edition as it currently exists for easy offline reading -- great for business travelers on a flight or on the subway. When you have an Internet connection again, the app allows you to refresh the content. Obviously I love the solution -- it allows an iPad to act like a website when it can, and like a print product when it needs to. It means that the video content can only be viewed when connected, but everything else still works offline.

Update: I thank Jim Sweeney for writing me after reading this post. He informs me that an update of the Sideways 10.06 app will move all the content directly into the app, with the exception of the videos and interactive maps. This will make the app much more like the Financial Times app in that offline reading will possible. I hope to speak to Sweeney next week to discuss his experiences so far, how he sees his magazine evolving, and what he thinks he has learned so far that would have relevance for both B2B publishers and newspapers.

Editorially, Sideways leans towards young males with its sports, music and games content -- but that is really not the domain of TNM.

Layout-wise, however, the magazine is locked into a fairly strict formula -- much as a blog site like this one would be. The main column is always the same size, and whole the articles can be scrolled, there is not paging swiping, no matter whether in portrait or landscape mode. This may be my biggest criticism of the app: it is too conservative. The canvas that is the iPad is not explored for its ability to be interactive, movable, animated, etc.
There may be two explanations for this: well, it is the first issue, right?; and the magazine may lack an art director. In the Welcome to Sideways video, a graphic designer introduces the magazine. But I'm sure an art director with publishing experience would have wanted a introductory cover as well as more creative layouts.

In this end, this iPad magazine could easily move online and become a blog since all the layouts could fit inside a Blogspot template. That is, until you find the more interactive features such as the map for World Cup games. These layouts are freed from the strict layouts of the other features because they pull up new windows.

I couldn't help but think that the launch of the Sideways iPad magazine is very much like my decision to launch Talking New Media: it is an educational experience. "We're looking to figure this out," Sideways CEO Charles Stack told me. "If someone says they know already where this is heading I'm not going to think too highly of them."

The first issue of Sideways may be a work in progress, but it shows great promise. Just as importantly, Sideways is very committed to the platform.

"The iPad and other new devices from Apple, Google and Microsoft will totally transform the existing media landscape. This disruption will be on a scale with that brought on by the Internet in the 1990's. Sideways will lead that transformation with innovative technology, extensive partnerships, and compelling new content," Stack said in a statement announcing the appointment of Eliza Wing as COO.

"It's the first magazine designed specifically for the iPad, with features and columns that entertain readers and enhance their enjoyment of the device," editor James Sweeney is quoted as saying in the magazine launch press release. "Each monthly issue will experiment with and evolve this new form."

It is good that Sideways is taking on this task. Cleveland, in particular, has several companies lagging way behind in mobile media, let alone tablet publishing. If I were Questex, Penton or Advanstar I would be knocking on the doors of Sideways LLC and asking if they would partner with them on their own first tablet publishing efforts.

In the third of three posts, I will look at the business model issues of iPad publishing.