One company that is building replica edition apps for both the iPhone and iPad that I have not covered is Texterity, one of the leading digital publishing vendors for magazine companies. As of today, Texterity has 25 iPhone apps inside the iTunes App Store, and 24 iPad app.
Texterity is one of B2B media's biggest vendors, building flipbooks for GIE Media, Canon and Crain, among others. They also work with consumer publishers like Meredith and Rodale, though I could not determine whether Rodale's apps are a product of Texterity or internally created as Rodale is listed as the seller.
In any case, we are talking about replica editions here, not completely new media products.
The app I chosen to look at is from Lawn & Landscape, a magazine I am very familiar with because I receive it at home. One of the magazine's competitors, Landscape & Irrigation, is a magazine that once bore my name as publisher. The magazine is produced by GIE Media, and the print edition has a BPA audited circulation of around 74,000, down from a high of 80,000 at the end of 2008.
The immediate advantage for GIE Media of working with Texterity is that their universal app is branded with their own name, and the app stands alone inside the App Store, as opposed to being part of a digital newsstand owned and controlled by the vendor. Not surprisingly, GIE Media has other apps from their various divisions represented in iTunes such as apps for Golf Course Industry, Pest Control Technology and Greenhouse Management & Production.
The free app from Lawn & Landscape features access to multiple issues, offline reading, a live RSS feed from the website, and pinch-to-zoom. Some of the programming is a bit buggy, such as the pinch-to-zoom, which can give you headaches as you fight with it. A like a lot of apps, once you've zoomed in the page tends to float about like a drunken sailor. I don't know of this is a programming problem, or the fault of the iOS platform because it is fairly common.
Texterity offers its publishers plenty of features such as e-mail sharing of stories, bookmarking, etc. Some features, however, are rather strange, such an option to view the story in a text version. I like the idea, but the column that comes up to house the text is so small that it kind of defeats the purpose. Oh well, it's harmless.
I also like the idea of live RSS news feeds. I wonder if it is possible, though, to categorize these so that readers could focus in areas of interest to them. In fact, this is the kind of feature that could make the app truly useful. For instance, instead of simply bringing in the RSS feed is a drab way like it is done here, why not look at the RSS feed readers that are being launched for the iPad and come up with a design that makes the app more like a live news product? Just an idea.
The question I always ask myself is why do replica editions at all? The tablet is, after all, a new media that will develop its own characteristics. Readers of this site know that I believe flipbooks for the web are a complete waste of money. The web is the web, and print is print -- so why try and duplicate the print experience online? And besides, name someone (besides the vendors) that are making money at flipbooks?
But there are some advantages to having a replica edition for the iPad: 1) it is a brand extension -- that is, while a flipbook does not extend the brand (the website already did that), the app does give the publisher a branded presence on the iPad; 2) good vendors are offering many options that will, in the end, create a new, separate product -- for instance, some publishers are not including the print ads in their replica editions, pulling them out completely and only including ads that were specifically purchased for publication in the app edition.
Texterity offers its publishing clients several package options: from a "Starter Pack" that is a non-Flash flipbook for the web, to a "Total Mobility" package that includes branded apps for the iPhone and iPad.
The option I like best, though, is the "App Package" -- just an universal app that creates for the publisher new products for mobile and tablet publishing.
In the end, though, that means that one would be using their vendor simply as an app developer, and therefore you will be judging them based on their ability to create a good app (and Texterity looks like a good option in this regard).
But the reality is that most publishers, especially B2B publishers, chose their vendors based on their ability to create inexpensive, workable flipbooks for the web. Apps for the iPhone and iPad, then, are product extensions for most digital publishing companies -- like specialty printing products developed by printers.
For many B2B media firms the rise of the web, and now the rise of mobile and tablet publishing, has only brought added costs, and very little new profits. Despite CEOs who often brag about their rising Internet revenue at industry meetings, very few publishers have truly cracked the nut that is online media.
Back in the nineties, to justify building their first websites, many publishers talked about brand extension, and expressed their fear that if they didn't learn about the web they would miss out in the end.
These same reasons are being given for creating first iPhone and iPad apps -- and I must say there is some justification for thinking this way.
But one thing we all learned early on was that a publisher needed a real web strategy -- both for editorial and for sales. (One reason flipbooks seem to appeal to some publishers is that it completely foregoes the process of coming up with a strategy. It is simply an extension of the print product, so all effort continues to go into that product and content (and advertising) is simply repurposed for the online environment.)
Those that succeeded first online were either the pure plays, or those publishers that assigned new tams to handle the web. By having a web editor, some publications -- but only a few -- were able to create new web products that extended the print brand, but were really separate editorial products. Today, slimmed down edit teams are forced to handle both print and the web. No wonder then that creating a completely new product for tablets is extremely rare (dare I say, nonexistent).
Brighter publishers, such as Kate Byrne over at Mac|Life, are thinking through the issues of advertising in an attempt to avoid the give-the-web-away-free mess that rose up with the first publication websites. Her first iPad effort has been very well received by iPad owners -- and anyone who has launched a publication app for the iPad knows how demanding those iTunes reviewers are. (As of today 75 percent of the star ratings for the Mac|Life Tablet Edition app are three stars or higher -- about as close to a smash hit as it gets.)