Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Zinio releases branded iPad app for Sporting News Today; a digital magazine that wants to be print

Please tell me this isn't the Sporting News iPad app I've been waiting all summer for? Like the kid (supposedly) said, "say it ain't so, Joe".
Back in early May I interviewed Jeff Price, publisher of Sporting News about his new Sporting News Today strategy. The publication had been working with Zinio to create a daily online digital magazine but now Price had begun charging for access and with the launch of Apple's iPad was telling me that a branded app would eventually appear. This new branded app would still involve working with Zinio, but now his magazine would have a video partner, CineSport, which would bring in sports highlight content to both the website and this branded app.

And so the wait began. Finally, over the Labor Day weekend the Sporting News Today branded app appeared and, it is sad to report, it is no different than the same product that has been in the Zinio digital newsstand these past few months -- no video content, the same print look.

And the worst thing is that after stepping up and buying the latest issue inside the app I was horrified to discover that the issue sent to me was dated Sunday, September 6 and contained as its first story a preview of the Boise State - Virginia Tech game, a game played yesterday (Boise State dramatically won the game in the final minute.)
App details:
Free iPad app
$0.99 per issue
or $2.99 per month
Print design
Minimal interactivity

(Looking in the Zinio newsstand now I see that today's issue has now been made available, a few hours late if you are a commuter, but OK if you live on the West Coast. The latest issue is promised to be available by 6 AM each morning -- but is that 6 AM ET, or 6 AM PT? Is this the source of the problem?)

I can only assume that this isn't what the publisher meant by a branded app. This version of Sporting News Today is a digital only publication that is trying very hard to pretend its a printed magazine. Layouts are designed as if this were a printed publications, with ads positioned exactly like a print publication, and two-page spreads appearing in landscape mode. (As I wrote at the end of my look at the National Geographic Magazine app, there is no such thing as a two-page spread on a tablet. There is only one screen, so there can only be one page.

The app does contain Zinio's good pinch and swipe navigation. My only complaint would be that once you zoom in the pages can tend to bounce around like a drunken sailor.

← Sporting News Today: the digital magazine
that wants to be a print magazine.

If this is the final look of this app it would be hugely disappointing. If, however, the branded app has launched without the addition of video content, and without a new design then it is a shame from a marketing standpoint.

Apps hit the iTunes store when launched, and unless successful immediately fall off the first page of the app store pretty quickly. It is important to get this part right.

Update: I've just received an e-mail telling me my "September 6th issue is here!" Thanks guys.

Update 2: Sporting News has released a press release concerning the new app. It states that the video content from CineSport that can currently be seen on the Sporting News' website "will be available within a few weeks from launch". Big mistake, in my opinion. An app only launches once, unless you create a substitute app, so launching without the added content seems like a marketing mistake.

Nonetheless, I think sports fans will appreciate seeing the branded app. The sports apps for the iPad from both ESPN and Sports Illustrated are certainly lacking at this point (why hasn't ESPN launched a dedicated app for EPSN 360 for the iPad, for instance? The college football season has already begun and I would have thought that an app for that product would have been a no brainer.)

But I still wonder why someone would create a digital-only product that tries so hard to look like a print product.