Friday, October 8, 2010

Esquire works with ScrollMotion to create its first tablet edition; Hearst's second paid iPad magazine app to date

I learned that Hearst's Esquire magazine had released its first iPad app this morning by reading the story on Mashable. There, Esquire's editor-in-chief David Granger told the site that “no medium will ever be as satisfying as print.” Not a very good introduction to the magazine's tablet edition, is it? Kind of makes you wonder why they bothered.

But the magazine editor's attitude aside, this paid app from Hearst should proive popular with iPad owners.
By working with ScrollMotion one knows immediately that this effort will be a porting over of the content, not the creation of a whole new product. OK, that's fine, but will the new iPad edition be a replica edition or something that feels native to the device?

What's the difference? A lot. A replica edition attempts to duplicate the experience of print, transforming the Apple iPad from an electronic publishing device to a two-dimensional substitute for print. A native application, however, works with the tablet palette using the text, graphics and multimedia elements to attempt to create a whole new media product.

Esquire's tablet edition does a little of both, and succeeds in producing an interesting and engaging publishing product.
First, some details: the Esquire app is priced at $4.99, fast becoming the default price for well-made tablet editions from major publishers. At this point, there is no way to subscribe to the magazine from within the app -- individual issues will have to be handled through new apps, or a major update that will then require the reader to buy the next edition through an in-app purchase.

The app weighs in a only 88.9 MB far less than some of the Condé Nast apps due to limited video and animation. Both elements are there, just limited -- which is fine.

The app opens with a little video of Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) introducing the magazine. This is nice, but probably a mistake. The video played without a hitch the first time I opened the app, but led to several crashes later on. This was the only programming issue I encountered, but I bet there will be complaints in iTunes about crashes.

After that, the app is all about navigation, as you'd expect from an app developed with ScrollMotion. There is no table of contents, per se, but a left side navigation bar for departments, and a bottom scrolling window that takes you to individual articles. In some ways, you could almost think of this as a more sophisticated RSS reader, had it been built using that device.

The bad news is that the app only offers a landscape mode when viewing embedded pictures. Also, there is no pinch-to-zoom or way to increase the font size here. Because of this, the magazine almost feels like a replica edition at first, and was very disappointing. The editor's note, A Letter from the Editor, felt as old fashioned as the editor's own attitude towards publishing. But things quickly improve once past his introductory column.

But the developers have included plenty of HTML5-based coding here to keep iPad readers entertained and impressed -- but they don't overwhelm the experience. In this way, I don't see how anyone could possibly believe the print experience is more 'satisfying'. But then again, there were silent film directors who just see the point of adding sound to film, right?

Left: A short video opens the tablet edition; Middle: A conservative start; Right: one of the drop down menus reveals the app's multimedia content.

The first Esquire tablet edition uses a single-sponsor approach -- in the case, Lexus is the advertiser. I like this way starting out. The tablet edition starts with zero readers so how can you sell it like a regular magazine? One of two scenarios will arise that will provide the publisher with a better sales opportunity: a consistent track record of paid downloads developed over time, or a paid subscription model that works for both the publisher and Apple.

I'm sure one of the issues publishers are dreading is the monthly deadline. It is one thing to produce a first tablet edition, but how does one do this on a regular basis without a dedicated staff? Ultimately paid downloads and advertising support will be needed to produce a monthly tablet edition of this complexity. But we are still in the early days of this platform and already some very good work is being done.

Of course, there is the obligatory promotional video. If you ask me, this should have been embedded in the editor's column as a way of giving a tour of the app.