Friday, September 24, 2010

Condé Nast gets a bit cynical with its Gourmet Live iPad app; readers forced to promote magazine to get 'rewards'

When Condé Nast announced that they had decided that between its two famous food magazines, Gourmet and Bon Appetit, Gourmet was the one that would get the axe, a lot of readers expressed their disappointment, as did the media world, calling Gourmet 'beloved' and 'honored' in their stories of the closing. Gawker's story is even titled The Wrath of McKinsey, blaming the consulting company for the decision.
Now Condé Nast has brought back the venerable title as a free iPad app called Gourmet Live (same name as the website), and this time Condé Nast may have put the final nail in the coffin of this title. Sure the name will live on, but this is a cynical app, maybe the first cynical media app out there. While it may succeed long term, my guess is that long time readers of the magazine will be disappointed that the app feels more like a trap than it does a real magazine.

The problem starts with the fact that this app appears built on the cheap. A half dozen stories, each laid out pretty much identically with no interactive content, unless you count the embedded YouTube video. For Condé Nast, this is like dressing up the Queen in jeans and t-shirt.
But the biggest problem, when users are complaining about in iTunes, is that the app requires you, begs you, demands of you, that you create an account by linking your Twitter or Facebook account to the app. Why? So the app can your accounts as methods of promoting the title. The editors seem thrilled with this, bragging on their home page that the first "rewards" tweet has been delivered (see screenshot at left).

The rewards, of course, is access to more content -- the real meat of the app, if you will. Don't play along and you're locked out. A lot of people won't want to subject their friends and families to Condé Nast promotional messages -- but tough, this is the price you will pay for getting this app and its content for free.

(I wonder if there was some sort of Faustian bargain made by the company with its staff: show us that enough people will want this app, and the readership base will be big enough, and we'll support the effort.)

The app is currently without out ads, but this may be a strategic decision -- after all, selling a product that has a circulation of zero the day it is launched is not easy. But it used to be that products were launched because the ad staff could prove that there would be a market for it by going out and getting commitments from advertisers. In today's content driven media world the ad staffs are at the bottom of the food chain apparently. (It is also likely that Gourmet Live is without an ad staff right now -- I see no ads on the website at all. This is all just a test, right? Boy, talk about a lack of job security!)

Concerning the tablet edition itself, it is still well done. Articles are read by scrolling just as yesterday's Publisher app did it. One can not swipe to reach the next article, though, but must return the home page. This is a theme throughout the app, returning to the same screen again and again, whether it is the home page or the registration page.

The app also does not utilize the iPad's ability to pinch-to-zoom, but there is a setting that increases the font size, so the feature is not at all missed.

Left: articles look great in the app, and some come with embedded video; Middle: Kindle owners can only dream of the way the iPad renders photographs in tablet editions; Right: Denied! Damn you TNM for denying us access to your social accounts!

We'll see if eventually this app becomes famous for the backlash it gets from readers, you whether readers themselves show they don't mind handing over their social contacts to Condé Nast.

If this app evolves, regularly updates its contacts, and figures out a way to not alienate its readers with its registration requests, this could work out for the team at Gourmet Live. I certainly hope so, I truly believe tablet editions can be a legitimate way to publish. But for me, I know my friends don't want to receive corny promotional messages from me. Maybe your friends are different.

Here is the obligatory promotional video for Gourmet Live:

Speaking of Facebook . . . there sometimes appears here a tower ad from Facebook that is truly obnoxious, I apologize.