Friday, November 19, 2010

The Economist releases first apps for the iPhone and iPad; current paid subscribers get free access to content

The Economist has released its first set of apps, separate apps for the iPhone and iPad -- both free to download and with at least some free access to content for new customers.
While both The Economist on iPhone and The Economist on iPad are free to download, total access will require that you are a print or online subscriber. Both apps provide their users with free access to "the editor’s weekly selection of must-read articles".

The new apps do not contain a lot of bells and whistles. The editors do not appear interested in enhanced content like animation, embedded video or other content created specifically for these e-editions.

More surprisingly, there is no attempt to make these apps timely -- there will be no updates to content. If there is a major economic crisis, for instance, (think: Ireland) you will have to use your browser or someone else's app to learn what's going on. This is simply all about converting the weekly edition of The Economist to the iPhone and iPad -- and if you get my drift here, this is a huge mistake, and one that seems to be made by print people all the time. I would not be surprised if at some later date they revisit this decision.

So the goal here is simple: drive more sales of The Economist. According to The Guardian story on the apps, the financial weekly wants to acquire 1 million digital users in the next three years.

"Our readers have always preferred the Economist in print because it is a lean-back, immersive reading experience," said Oscar Grut, the Economist's managing director of digital editions, was quoted as saying. "The internet has not been a threat so far, because it cannot replicate this reading experience."

Left: the app opens to the log-in/registration page; Right: each article
offers you the choice of having it be read to you by a news reader.

The Economist promises that each Thursday evening (in London, afternoon in NYC) the paper will have its e-editions ready to be downloaded.

Current subscribers will be able to access the copy free-of-charge, bypassing Apple's App Store. This is possible because Apple has always allowed publishers who currently charge for online access to pass along their mobile and tablet products as ride alongs. For those publishers who continue to allow unlimited free access to their web content, this option is not available. In other words, if you want to launch your first iPad edition the same way you have to begin charging for web access.

Although I think The Economist will regret not incorporating a way to do breaking news, this isn't just a replica edition. Stories are formatted into a native design for easier reading. In fact, the art direction here is almost identical to that of the NYT and Financial Times. It simply works.

If you are a loyal reader of The Economist these apps will be much appreciated. In fact, I would say that for many people, myself included, "reading" the financial weekly on the iPad, and listening to the stories on the iPhone may be the best way to experience the products.

That is not to say that these first apps are finished products. The Economist has included this text in its iPhone app description:
We have become aware of a 'Startup failed' error on the iPhone and we are working to rectify it.

The temporary solution is to delete the app from your device and then re-install and login/register while connected to Wi-Fi. We are working on a fix and will update as soon as possible.

We apologise for the inconvenience.
The Economist has produced its own promotional video for their apps which you can see here:

Back in March of this year, a bit more than a week before Apple launched the iPad in the U.S., The Economist's Babbage blogger reproduced a comment from one of his readers who said the following:

If The Economist does not jump into the iPad boat sooner than later, by the time I renew my Economist subscription it could be already too late for this publisher as I would have already spent my allocated budget “to get informed” with plenty of other magazines (on my iPad). You’d say I could read The Economist online, but reading blogs is not reading a newspaper, and I do want to read your newspaper. So folks, you better start working on your iPad version!

The response from Babbage was "The wheels are turning" -- meaning that the weekly was already starting to develop (or at least think about) their own iPad product.