Tuesday, September 14, 2010

iPad-only magazine Sideways continues to showcase the platforms potential, though it fails to inspire as a magazine

Back in June Sideways LLC launched one of the first iPad-only magazines in existence. It was the product of a new company founded by Charles Stack, the founder of Books.com. The company billed itself as a software company first that was producing products for Apple's iOS platform, and its magazine, also called Sideways, would both experiment with the form, and showcase the company's capabilities.

The TOC serves as the cover for Sideways,
 an iPad-only magazine.

Today and tomorrow you can download the latest issue of the iPad-only publications for free (normally it is priced at $3.99). The September issue is the third to launch inside the iTunes App Store (they skipped publishing an August issue).

(In the meantime, the company has recently released another iPad app, this one an iPad book by photographer of Diana Curran. The $4.99 app can be found in iTunes here.)

When I first looked at Sideways I wrote the following:
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.

"We're really interested in experimenting with the form, what this medium wants to be when it grows up," said founder Charles Stack.  "The iPad medium wants to be something, like when sculptures talk about letting the sculpture out of the wood. It's the same kind of model,  we're trying to figure out what this hardware platform is really good at, or best at."
The magazine continues its role of showcasing the company's programming capabilities as app developers, though it frankly misses the mark as a magazine.

There are two main reasons this magazine is failing to ignite.

The first, and least important I suppose, is that as an iPad-only magazine it is a modest effort from the standpoint of programming. Yes, the navigation is good and it incorporates enough interactive material to demonstration to other publishers what a tablet publication should include (which is one of the reasons you should take advantage of the free-to-download offer).

But unlike the big boys that have created native iPad apps for their magazines, there is a lack of programming expertise on display here, especially in the area of animation. The fact is that iPad programming, the more advanced examples of it, depend on HTML5 expertise. (Check out the app from Mac|Life created by the team at Balthaser Studios (B3 Publishing). Their app for the Future US magazine is a cross between a replica edition and a native magazine.)

But in the end, the magazine suffers from the fact that it is just not very interesting as a magazine. Part of the problem is that, while the app contains all the content, it weighs in at only 46.4 MB. (It's an unfair comparison, I know, but the Mac|Life special issue app is 193 MB.)

Left: Built-in article sharing; Middle: a slideshow is including in this article; Right: a YouTube video included in this short piece.

Most magazines that are producing iPad editions are obviously already established, have a built-in audience, and already have an established personality and mission. Sideways exists to showcase the capabilities of its creator, not to actually say anything. What is Sideways (the magazine) trying to say? If you expect someone to dish out $3.99 at the newsstand for your print publication you know you have to grab them and force them to buy your magazine, a superficial run down of Belgian beers and a trip down to Memphis probably are not going to be enough to get iTunes shoppers excited to buy your app.

My suggestion would be to price the app at $1.99 to encourage the casual buyer. The only other solutions would be 1) spend a fortune and get some good copy, but Sy Hersh is expensive; 2) become focused like a laser. Jim Sweeney is the editor, and while he is basically a newspaper guy, he did spend some time at Penton. It is easy to be sharply focused at B2B magazines, but consumer books need to create an identity, as well. Unfortunately, the magazine launched without a reason to be other than from a technical standpoint, and now it will be hard to get those early readers to come back and try it again. (I'd say don't be afraid to toss in the towel and launch again under another name, but this time with a very clear theme and stated purpose.)

Nonetheless, Sideways continues to be among the very few tablet-only publications out there, and I continue to wish them the best of luck. (If I can get it to update properly, I will look at another iPad-only magazine: The Cinema Show, despite its name, an Italian movie magazine.)

Sideways LLC produced this video which previews the latest issue: