Maybe they have a word limit over at the Telegraph, one of the U.K.'s leading newspapers, because Shane Richmond writes about the experience of reading magazines on the iPad and is forced into three short posts -- I suppose I'll cut him some slack and figure that he (like me) was writing on the go.
In his first post, Apple iPad magazine apps: bringing back the 1990s, Richmond calls efforts from Wired, Popular Science and others "gimmicky" and says they lack "real engagement". What I find strange about the comment is that most of these first efforts for the iPad are rather minimal. So if the magazines lack "engagement" would this be the fault of the app or iPad, or the fault of the magazine itself? How can a print magazine be more engaging that an exact electronic replica of it?
Richmond's second post is even shorter, More on iPad magazines: the future is never now, in which is simply referring to this post from Oliver Reichenstein. But then Richmond seems to be coming around stating: "Despite two posts criticising magazine apps, I must say that I do think what’s been done so far shows promise. What I hope to do is temper some of the ‘woo-hoo! the media is saved’ enthusiasm that has been doing the rounds in recent weeks."
Richmond's third post, iPad magazines, part 3: The browser is often better, questions the need for individual apps. Want an answer, here it is: because an app is not a website.
A newspaper has one website, one URL; an app opens up infinite possibilities. An app can be audio/video only, it can be specialized, it can be general, it can be anything you want to be including an abject failure. But a website is one URL that serves the various needs of a publication, and had damn well better succeed at drawing in readers or it will be redesigned.
The New York Times can not dedicate its entire website to real estate, but it can (and has) dedicated an entire app to real estate. A website has to be accessible to everyone, an app has to be accessible only to the owners of the reading device.
Further, how do you read a magazine (or newspaper) online without an Internet connection? Many of the newest magazines apps are self-contained, or nearly so, allowing reading on the go. Then there is the Financial Times app, maybe the smartest media app yet, that allows you to download the latest version before going offline -- brilliant! as the Brits would say.
My guess is that the Telegraph's Richmond will soon begin to love the idea of apps -- it is what makes the iPhone and iPad tick. And if it appears that I'm picking on Mr. Richmond than that is not my intent. It should be remembered that the iPad has been available stateside for almost two months and many early critics of the device are coming around now that they have lived with it.
But the key for media is definitely apps -- whether individual apps, or app written by third parties like Zinio. Apps will also be the secret weapon of Google TV. While the focus of many reporters is on searching television programming, Google eyes bringing the app experience to the flatscreen not only as a way of bringing in new content, but of capturing television advertising dollars -- and don't look now but here comes Apple, too.
The magazine (and newspaper) "app" is what will allow single title publishers to create empires. Assuming, of course, they stop being old school and adopt the development model of modern publishing.