Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia releases special edition for the iPad; Adobe Air produced app weighs in at 573MB

Martha Stewart Living released a special edition of its magazine for the iPad: Martha Stewart Living Magazine for iPad. But while the results will definitely please fans of Martha Stewart, the dangers of using Adobe tools for tablet magazine production are beginning to be seen with this enormous app.
Weighing in at 573 MB in size, this $3.99 tablet edition takes several minutes to download on a very fast broadband connection.

The new app from MSLO is the second to bear the name of Martha Stewart. The first app, Martha Stewart Makes Cookies, was a special project by Callaway Digital Arts. Although the $7.99 app could be found under "Lifestyle" in the iTunes App Store, it was really a book project.

While I'm not a big Martha Stewart fan, I think those that are will love this special edition -- the size of the download notwithstanding. The question going forward is whether the publishing staff will stick to special editions or will begin creating tablet editions from their regularly scheduled print editions. (See video on TNM's YouTube Channel.)

The new tablet edition of Martha Stewart Living was created with Adobe's cross-platform publishing tools that bring both huge benefits and one major drawback to the iPad app. The drawback, as mentioned above, is the size of the app. At 573 MB, this magazine would fill up a blank CD. Much of the reason the magazine is so heavy is the video content and animation found within the app.

By having the all the content within the app, the publisher allows the reader to be able to access 100 percent of the content while not contented to the Internet. It is a self-contained product. That's great, at least until one begins to see that one can only download a handful of these apps before one's iPad starts running out of storage space (thank goodness I decided to buy an iPad with more storage).

Additionally, some iPad owners are complaining about slow back-up times. Background: when one plugs in their iPad to their computer the iPad immediately begins to back-up the device and also syncs content with iTunes. The more media one has downloaded the more time the process takes. Some users have said their back-ups are taking outrageous amounts of time and are canceling the process -- not that big a deal as long as their iPads don't break down.

Before getting into what is right about this app -- and there is a lot to like here -- let's finish with the negatives.

The Table of Contents here is great: a scrollable page that shows the depth of content here. But beware: scrolling is hard to do without accidentally touching story -- where upon the reader goes flying off to somewhere.

The app does not feature pinch to zoom, but the typography seems to take this into account. At no point did I find it difficult to read the text, but others might find some of the captions and other text a bit small.

So for giving up half of a gig of storage space, what does the reader get for $3.99? Well, a lot of content, that's for sure. But also a lot of great tablet publishing features.

First, the app allows the reader to access both portrait and landscape formats. Ads, such as this one (left) for Estée Lauder are designed for both modes and contains its own video which pulls up a new window rather than being embedded.

There is the obligatory "How-To Guide" -- something that is definitely worth including.
I mentioned the Table of Contents page above, and how difficult it is to use because the page is "touchy". But in landscape mode there is plenty of space along the edges to scroll. In the future, I would think the designers might make sure there is space in both modes to scroll efficiently without accidental touches.

The navigation, TOC aside, is really good. One can swipe to the next story, use a navigation bar on the bottom which appears when the reader taps the screen, or use a drop down navigation tool along the left.

But as a magazine publisher, what really gets me excited, of course, are the ads. Here is a list of the advertisers in this special edition, all of whom have video in their ads: Estée Lauder, Tiffany & Co., FedEx, Citibank, Curél, Nestlé, Macy's, Perricone MD, UPS, Marvin Windows, Cost Plus, and Robert Mondavi. Did these advertisers pay for their space? Probably not directly as it would remains pretty much impossible to properly price these editions without a bit of a track record. But it was good work on the part of the advertising folk to secure the proper artwork and multimedia content needed to make this iPad app work.

Finally, I should also point out the great animation found in one of the house ads. Looking at the enormous size of the staff at the end of the tablet edition one can see that MSL has the resources necessary to create a tablet edition such as this. Next we'll see if they can do this on a regular basis.

Are these bloated magazine apps a dead-end? Or will Internet connection speeds, combined with greater and cheaper storage make a half-a-gig seem small in the future? Frankly, I really don't know.

I've written in the past about Balthaser's original Flash site. The site took seemingly forever to load using a dial-up connection, but that didn't kill off Flash animation, it just delayed its implementation.

Last week The Oklahoman updated its iPad app adding a warning for users when their iPads were getting filled up with content. An avid reader who downloads both movies, books and magazines to their iPad will soon find themselves strangled for space.

But ultimately this problem may simply be a temporary issue. The real concern for publishers will be, of course, the business model.

At $3.99 per download, a special edition like this one from Martha Stewart will not generate huge dollars. Wired says it is currently averaging 30,000 sales per tablet edition. Even if this new app brings in 100,000 sales we are only talking about $400K in revenue -- a drop in the bucket when you are talking about MSLO.

So why do it? Because like all publishing ventures, it takes staff expertise and experience with a platform before one gets good at it. Those that transitioned to Photoshop and Quark could run circles around other publishers for quite a number of years. Creating the ability of your staff to create tablet editions -- especially when it is as large as the staff at MSLO -- adds a capability that may well prove to be the difference.

One thing for sure, those advertisers that I listed above must be impressed. And that had to be worth something, right?