Thursday, December 9, 2010

Postmedia Network releases ten free newspaper apps for the iPad; apps now dominate the Canadian App Store

Released last week, the ten new apps from Postmedia Network now dominate the Canadian iTunes App Store News charts. All free, all identical in construction, the apps are for the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Montreal Gazette, the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province, the Victoria Times Colonist and the Windsor Star.
Of the top ten free news apps for the iPad available in Canada, only the apps from The Globe and Mail and The Economist on iPad make the charts -- all the other eight are Postmedia Network apps right now.

These apps pretty much follow what I like to call the NYT/Financial Times model: they are native apps that essentially RSS feed readers, but they layout the stories much like a standard print front page. Touching a story leads you to a separate page where the story is fed into a standard layout. The reader then swipes to reach a second or third page, with the second page often used to stream an advertisement along with the copy.

The front page of the print edition of the Windsor Star,
 care of the Newseum.

In my opinion the formula works and has become the alternative to the replica edition used by many other newspapers and their app vendors. In essence, this way of creating a newspaper app makes a tablet newspaper out of the paper's website, rather than the print edition. The advantage is that the news can be constantly updated and the format feels familiar. The argument against this would be that it is essentially another way to layout a website, so why not use the browser instead. My answer would be that web reading is different than tablet reading -- except when it's not (that is, when you are, in fact, using the browser). We could get into a long conversation here about the philosophy of tablets versus the web, but let's move on before this story gets too much longer!

Each of the ten new apps opens with a video explaining the navigation and features of the news app. The video, sadly, looks like it was shot using someone's iPhone -- and not necessary an iPhone 4. But the video does the trick I suppose and could easily be upgraded later on.

In fact, most complaints I have about these apps are relatively minor and future updates could make improvements.
Once a reader has read a story
the story becomes grayed out.

One things I found strange was that when the reader taps on a story to read it when they return to the section front they find that the story has been grayed out. I suppose someone thought this would be nice, but I found that it annoying. Also, the headline fonts are so small that the pages just didn't look right to me. Oh well.

The Postmedia apps contain plenty of what are now becoming standard app features: social network sharing, offline reading capabilities, and the like. The apps make some of this more complicated -- for instance, stories are stored by section -- but readers will probably get used to the ins-and-outs of the apps and grow into them.

The commenting feature is nice, though many stories don't allow commenting at all -- something we are seeing more and more due to rude comments from trolls.

Finally, I don't think a chain of newspapers has accomplished what Postmedia has here. They should be very proud of these tablet editions. When you compare these apps to those recently released by Freedom Communications the contrast is dramatic. The key now is to make occasional updates to the apps over time.

Left: The Vancouver Sun iPad app, one of ten recently released by Postmedia Network Inc.; Middle: The section navigation in the Windsor Star iPad app;
Right: While the apps have a commenting feature, not all stories allow them.

Now, what is the business plan?

“This is the latest step in our digital first strategy,” Malcolm Kirk, Executive Vice President, Digital Media, is quoted in the company's release. “By combining innovative technology with our newspapers’ compelling content, we are proud to invite our readers to experience the latest innovation in Canadian publishing, on iPad. The new apps also give our advertisers an opportunity to reach their target audiences in dynamic new ways.”

OK, I agree that this will be a good advertising vehicle. But will these apps remain free? As a reader I know I would dump my print edition for a good tablet edition -- in fact I dumped by Chicago Tribune print subscription already, before they have launched a tablet edition.

In their own story about their new apps, Postmedia really doesn't give us a clue about their thinking along business lines. The quotes from the digital team are more "gee wiz, ain't this great."

“Walk into any coffee house in this city and you see more and more people enjoying an iPad break with their favourite beverage,” Province Editor-in-chief Wayne Moriarty is quoted as saying. “We want The Province app to be the news destination of choice for that audience.”

I love the enthusiasm, but in the end there has to be a business rationale for the apps. I suspect Postmedia is biding their time, waiting to see how many people down their new apps. But I know my fair share of circulation managers who would be howling right about now. It will be interesting to see if the papers move eventually to some sort of paid app model.

(By the way, in addition to Malcolm Kirk, other members of the team mentioned in the story included Steve Buors, vice-president of digital media strategy and operations, and Scott Anderson, senior vice-president of content.)

1 Comment:

Tablazines said...

Well web apps like this: are pretty indistinguishable from the iPad counterpart.