Friday, September 10, 2010

Apple's Ping and consumer versus media adoption

Late Friday ramblings:
I spend a lot of time in iTunes, digging through the vast array of me-too media apps, etc. Then, when I am no longer working on media stuff, I am still in iTunes using the player to listen to music, searching for the newest offering from Charles Lloyd or Jordi Savall (that will tell you a bit about my tastes).

So you would think Ping, Apple's new social networking tool for music, might be right up my alley. But not really, I'm not one to use Facebook or other social networking tools unless I really feel it necessary. My use of Twitter, for instance, is pretty much limited to the feeds that come off this site.
Photobucket
There was once a time when I was an early adopter -- e-mail, for instance. But no more. I think most social networking tools are picked up by younger people and then they spread out to the rest of the population (unless you are talking about Ancestry.com, I suppose). I bought an iPhone early one, and received my iPad on launch day not just because I liked the technology, but because it is my job (all those tech writers who said they would not by an iPad were committing malpractice, in my opinion).

I think this pattern of slow adoption is true of most media people. Articles continue to appear about Facebook as if it was recently launched, articles that are so naively written that they must make regular Facebook users cringe.

To test my theory I decided to first see if any of my acquaintance were early adopters of Ping. I didn't expect much and I was not disappointed.

OK, next let's try media folk -- both people I personally know and those in digital leadership positions. Some who have fairly common last names were difficult to look up, but I gave it a shot, but still no results. Is anyone using this thing, I thought to myself?

Lastly, how about all those app developers I have daily contact with, surely those folks are techie enough to want to use something new, right?

Well, I did find one person -- one. I found someone from Portugal that I thought might be a designer who recently wrote in -- but it turns out his name is not that uncommon, maybe that wasn't the same guy, who could tell?  (I felt a little foolish at this point - it was like searching for "John Smith" -- which by the way, pulls up 27 pages of people at the moment).

The point: most media people, and the ones who interact with them, are increasingly in a bad position to judge trends when it comes to consumer marketing, and technology, specifically. I still talk to people who are convinced that there will never be a profitable way to publishing online, and that if they only stick it out a little longer their print products will return to profitability -- so why invest in mobile, let alone tablet apps? How could we expect these same media people to recognize a new trend?

Heck, I haven't a clue as to whether Ping will be the next great social networking tool (seeing Lady Gaga being used to promote the thing is enough to end my interest), but you'll find me in there anyway -- just to test it out. It is what is necessary in this strange new world of media.

Are you ready for some football? Broadcasters release mobile & iPad apps to support broadcast programming

In case you didn't know, its football season again. Last night the first NFL game of the year took place -- I missed it, being more concerned about the Giants-Padres game -- and so it makes perfect sense that one of the networks would want to release a mobile app for the sport.
Photobucket
In fact, there are lots of smartphone apps already released including several from ESPN: ESPN Fantasy Football 2010 and ESPN Fantasy Football Draft Kit, for instance. In total, ESPN has 21 sports apps in the iTunes App Store.

But the slate of iPad apps is considerably smaller. To support its Sunday Night Football program, NBC Universal released an app last week that offers a slate of features, but streaming live video is not one of them. On the other hand, NBC's Notre Dame Central HD app says that you can purchase live coverage of ND home games vis WiFi or 3G right from within the app -- assuming you care that much about Notre Dame football -- NBC certainly does since they pay a fortune to broadcast the team.
Photobucket
Today CBS Interactive released only its second iPad app, this one for football. CBS Sports Pro Football for iPad is a free app that supports both its football broadcasts and its fantasy games. While it will offer streaming video highlights, it does not offer live broadcasts, presumably the NFL still holds those rights.

Unfortunately for pro football fans, the offerings from the NFL in total include two iPhone apps: one free that offers very little, another paid that offers no live broadcasts either, but does let users send $4.99 to the NFL.

To watch live football DirecTV is the only option, I believe. There NFL SuperFan app was launched last year, and if you are a subscriber to Sunday Ticket you can watch live games on your phone. DirecTV had promised an iPad version of the app, but to date it has not appeared in iTunes, though if they are serious I would expect it soon.

Comcast is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to pro football. The cable operator does not offer a package to compete with Sunday Ticket and so must depend on its RedZone channel to show live feeds whenever a team is about to score. It works to a certain degree, so why no RedZone app?

Short takes: more reaction to Apple announcement

I'm surprised I didn't get more feedback from developers concerning the changes Apple has made to its app development guidelines, a rather stark reminder of the power of the company that holds the monopoly (for the time being) on tablet app development. But before changing the subject I thought I'd post these two three responses:

Erik Schut, President of WoodWing Software: Overall the announcement from Apple is good news. It provides transparency and flexibility which will stimulate innovation.

From a cross-compiler perspective it doesn't bring anything for us immediately. In order to bring the best experience on the iOS we develop our Apps using Apple's native Objective-C.

The submission process sometimes has been a frustration for app developers, so we applaud Apple's move to publish their guidelines.


Sean Kovacs, mobile app developer, developer of GV Mobile, a Google Voice-based iPhone app Tweets twice: Since GV Mobile complies with all 110+ guidelines newly posted by Apple, it should get approved?

Then a few minutes later: Good news: I did get confirmation back from Apple that it will most likely get back in once I resubmit.

Adobe Corporate Communications blog:
Apple’s announcement today that it has lifted restrictions on its third-party developer guidelines has direct implications for Adobe’s Packager for iPhone, a feature in the Flash Professional CS5 authoring tool.

This is great news for developers and we’re hearing from our developer community that Packager apps are already being approved for the App Store. We do want to point out that Apple’s restriction on Flash content running in the browser on iOS devices remains in place.


Emphasis mine. A lot of folk are forgetting this little detail: Apple changes have a lot more to do with how you develop your app than what it does at the end -- Flash, for now at least, is still out.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Short takes: reactions to Apple development guidelines roll in; Google 'advertises' display advertising solutions

Some early feedback concerning Apple's statement from earlier today that it is changing its app development guidelines:

Jonathan Ozeran, Tribune Interactive: I think it just extends the universe of options available to us as we continue to focus on new mobile products and opportunities.
Photobucket
Google Mobile Ads Blog: This is great news for everyone in the mobile community, as we believe that a competitive environment is the best way to drive innovation and growth in mobile advertising. Mobile advertising has already helped to fund tens of thousands of mobile apps across many different platforms and devices, and it will help do the same for many more in the years ahead.

Bloomberg: Shares of Adobe Systems Inc. jumped Thursday after Apple Inc. removed one obstacle keeping developers of mobile software for Apple's app store from using Adobe's technology.

Concerning language in the app guidelines about political satire Joshua Benton from Nieman Journalism Lab writes: So a professional columnist or cartoonist can say nasty things about Obama, but Joe Citizen can’t? Defining who is a “professional” when it comes to opinion-sharing is sketchy enough, but when it includes political speech and the defining is being done by overworked employees of a technology company, it’s odious.

I'll continue to add any comments I get today here, otherwise look for a new post containing reactions tomorrow.



In a post on the company's blog page, Neal Mohan, Vice President of Product Management introduced Google's latest advertising initiative -- display advertising.

"Advertising with Google used to be all about four lines of text, on Google.com and on our partner sites. No longer," wrote Mohan.

"We get excited by display advertising for a number of reasons. First, we now know that we can use all the technology and expertise that we’ve developed in search and search advertising to improve display advertising for users, advertisers and publishers, right across the web. Second, helping advertisers and publishers to easily deliver the most engaging, relevant, creative and valuable ad contains the sort of huge technical challenge that we love. And third, great display advertising helps to fund great content on the web."

Google is trying to simplify buying display advertising direct.

But this campaign is also targeted at publishers who want the ads that appear on their site to be relevant in order to improve advertising performance. For many publishers who use ad networks to sell available inventory, ad relevance is the biggest objection. (This site uses Technorati which only occasionally streams a relevant ad onto the site.)

Here is a video from Google called "Growing the Display Advertising Pie":

Apple radically changes app development guidelines to accommodate developers; review guidelines now posted

I assume app developers will be extremely happy to read about this: Apple has dramatically changed their development guidelines and made their app approval guidelines more transparent.

The statement, posted today on the Apple website, is reproduced in full here:

Statement by Apple on App Store Review Guidelines

The App Store℠ has revolutionized the way mobile applications are developed and distributed. With over 250,000 apps and 6.5 billion downloads, the App Store has become the world’s largest mobile application platform and App Store developers have earned over one billion dollars from the sales of their apps.

We are continually trying to make the App Store even better. We have listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart. Based on their input, today we are making some important changes to our iOS Developer Program license in sections 3.3.1, 3.3.2 and 3.3.9 to relax some restrictions we put in place earlier this year.

In particular, we are relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code. This should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need.

In addition, for the first time we are publishing the App Store Review Guidelines to help developers understand how we review submitted apps. We hope it will make us more transparent and help our developers create even more successful apps for the App Store.

The App Store is perhaps the most important milestone in the history of mobile software. Working together with our developers, we will continue to surprise and delight our users with innovative mobile apps.
It will be interesting to see the reaction from the app development community. I'll post reactions as this news spreads.

Update 1: According to Daring Fireball, the biggest change will be that Adobe's Flash cross-compiler will no longer be banned. This makes sense to me, and was probably already in effect in reality. As John Gruber writes "If you can produce a binary that complies with the guidelines, how you produced it doesn’t matter."

Update 2: The App Store Review Guidelines posted by Apple read like a conversation between a parent and their child -- and in a way this might be exactly what was intended, a message to young developers about what is expected of them.

Here are two examples: "We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store,. We don't need any more Fart apps." OK, got it. And "If your app looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you're trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection." Great stuff if you're 14, but what about Apple's policies concerning political comment and satire?

Update 3: This might be welcome news: "Apps that duplicate apps already in the App Store may be rejected, particularly if there are many of them." I'm thinking of RSS feed readers here -- there are tons of them, and whether you know it or not, they all compete with your publication's own branded app to a small degree.

Penton redesigns websites within agriculture group

Trade publisher Penton Media announced today that they have launched some new websites for their agriculture group. The websites are a collaboration of the B2B media firm and digital design and tech company HUGE. The Brooklyn based firm has previously worked with CNN, jetBlue and other companies on redesigns and web strategy.

"You might say that we started from scratch - except for the rich content we already own - knowing that our goal was to attract more users, make the user experience more robust, and have a much more modular component architecture that enables editors to introduce new features," Sharon Rowlands, CEO of Penton Media, Inc. said in the release. "The work takes us from the legacies of magazines' companion sites to providing full-fledged Web-first products."
Photobucket
The new sites are attractive and incorporate plenty of white space, but two things that jumped out at me: 1) the site typography appears designed for the over-60 crowd and 2) why is a little banner ad being placed inside a huge space where you would assume a leaderboard would better fit?  (A mistake, maybe?)

Oh well. I'll let you judge, here is a GIF at right that shows the differences.

From a technical point-of-view, the sites are pretty much the same, picking up about 20 pixels in width. The sites still incorporate some Google ads. The biggest change is that the old site incorporated a snippet of the first paragraph of the story, a pretty common practice that is going away. Now, fewer stories incorporate snippets, but the type is now enlarged considerably.

The biggest changes are probably those that would be missed by a quick look at the site. For instance, some changes to the navigation bar shows some category changes -- I'm sure these types of changes will be found throughout the sites that have been redesigned.

"Our Websites will no longer be strictly navigation based," said Nino Tasca, vice president, Internet technology said in the same release. "We have changed the functionality so that there is a better relationship between the user and the content. As Penton continues to launch the other sites within our vertical markets, we will leverage that relational data so both our advertisers and readers have a superior digital experience."

So far the ag group has relaunched sites for Delta Farm Press, Southeast Farm Press, Southwest Farm Press and Western Farm Press. The remaining sites for National Hog Farmer, Beef, Corn and Soybean Digest, Hay and Forage Grower and Farm Industry News will launch over the next few weeks.



Ultimately the two biggest changes that must occur in B2B websites involve not web design, but changes in attitude within the editorial and sales departments.

While it is nice to see B2Bs add blogs and other somewhat modern features to their websites, it really does them no good when those same blogs are rarely updated. The blogs on Delta Farm Press show the latest entries are a week old -- on launch day!

More importantly, what changes are occurring on the revenue side of the ledger? Most B2Bs still maintain the same attitude that print come first because page prices generally far exceed web ad prices.

One exercise I did in my last publisher position was to create a financial model that would tell me what the revenue levels would need to be at in order to go web-only. This was not the goal -- going web-only -- but by creating the financial I then knew what our revenue goals would need to look like in order to maintain our current level of editorial staffing.

What I found was revealing: the amount of ad inventory that existed online was too small to maintain present staffing levels. This changed my attitude about our sites completely. Instead of worrying about whether this-or-that leaderboard position was sold, I needed to start thinking about whether we were creating enough opportunities.

This led me to the conclusion that single websites for print properties may no longer make sense economically. Think about it: if a single website can not generate the level of revenue necessary to sustain itself, then that unit will have to start thinking about groups of websites. (Because of the nature of web publishing, the cost of two sites is essentially the same as one if maintained and sold by the same staff.)

But most publishers hate the idea of creating niche sites, preferring to try and drive all their traffic to one destination. But just like in print, the best way to compete against a general interest property is to pick off a category.

But whatever the strategy, whether one general site, or a group of sites, the sales department has to be eager to sell web. But we'll leave that subject for another day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Will 2011 be the year of the tablet? Analyst forecasts that Apple will sell 28 million tablets as rivals rush out their own tablets; Toshiba among first to launch Android tab

One could go on for hours making jokes about analysts, just as one could for lawyers, so you should probably take the forecast from one Maynard Um with a bit of skepticism: his "conservative" estimate is that Apple will sell 28 million iPads next year.

"Sales of traditional notebooks appear to be feeling pressure from the iPad, causing a scramble by vendors to launch iPad-like tablets," said Maynard Um, an analyst with UBS Investment Research, according to AppleInsider.
Photobucket
"We believe that a majority of this impact is occurring on the lower end of PC sales as the iPad is priced close enough to this range that it becomes attractive to consumers looking to make purchases within this segment."

In other words, despite the fact that Apple CEO Steve Jobs claims the iPad is an unique product, something very different from a notebook PC, buyers are deciding to purchase the tablet rather than investing in a low-end notebook -- or netbook.

My own experience is that consumers that are just now paying attention to the iPad are, indeed, confusing the two products. A guest that visited over the Labor Day weekend picked up my iPad and volunteered that his daughter was considering buying the tablet -- he called it a Mac, however, and nothing I could say to him would deter him from confusing the two products.



When Apple launched its iPad in April it was apparent to me that Apple, while first to market, had crippled its first tablet product so much that it would be easy for a competitor to introduce a legitimate alternative. The iPad, after all, doesn't have HDMI-out and yet is supposed to be for media consumption. It has no storage solution, no printing solution, no front-facing camera, no multitasking, no way to organize and easily share files. In other words, it can't do half the things PC owners expect from a computer.

But despite the detractors, and my own evaluation of the situation, Apple is projected to sell over 15 million units this year. "Our contacts in Asia seem to regularly blame the iPad for a large portion of the [PC] market woes," Ben Reitzes from Barclays is quoted as saying by Fortune.

But TNM was launched knowing Apple was introducing a tablet that would transform media consumption -- especially print media consumption. Nonetheless, I have been surprised that it has taken Apple's competitors so long to introduce a true alternative to the iPad. My assumption was that the iPad would jump start tablets, not that it sell so many on its own.

The reason for this may be that Apple's product caught its competitors by surprise: it offered less as a way of offering more. Rather than adding all the features already mentioned, Apple trimmed back its features in order to lower the iPad's price, while taking advantage of its iOS platform to attract developers to create applications for the tablet.

If the iPad had launched at the rumored $1000 price it would not have enjoyed the same level of success. So now competitors are forced to compete both on features and price -- they have to add in all those missing components, and beat Apple's $499 entry price. Once again Apple will own the top end of the market while competitors fight for the lower end.

One company to jump into the fray is Toshiba. Its tablet, the Folio 100, will launch in November. Like HP's delayed slate, this is a thick beast that will have all the ports you need, though it will not come with 3G connectivity apparently.

The display is 10.1 inches in size meaning that it will compete head-on with the iPad while some other tablets are launching with smaller screen sizes. (I'm a firm believer that the larger screen size is a benefit to print publishers creating tablet editions -- smaller screens will resemble are somewhat between the iPad's look and that of a smartphone -- how do you design for it?)

Here is a look at the Folio 100, care of MobileBurn.com:

The Columbus Dispatch tablet edition seeks the middle ground between replica edition and native tablet app

Among the batch of new iPad news apps released over the Labor Day weekend, the app from The Columbus Dispatch initially confused me. The seller is listed as Good.iWare -- their PDF reader, GoodReader, was released shortly after the iPad was launched and added the capability to the tablet when early users of the tablet were in desperate need for a good PDF reader. Surely a newspaper app that lists its developer as the maker of a PDF reader was releasing a replica edition, right?
Photobucket
Well, not really. The new iPad app from The Columbus Dispatch is more than just a replica of the daily newspaper, offering readers tablet native layouts of the stories seen on the front page. Because of this I attempted to contact the developer to find out what was going on, and so I held this story for one day.

It turns out that this new app is the product of a collaboration between the newspaper, Good.iWare and Olive Software, a company I mentioned this morning -- they do the flipbooks for CFE Media.

Opening the app for the first time one is sent to a rather confusing opening page -- My Library. The reader is presented with a sample issue from back in July, along with a web library. The reader is supposed to connect there and purchase a subscription in order to access the daily editions.

Smartly, the Dispatch is offering readers a 14-day free trial in order to entice a paid subscription. According to the Dispatch website, monthly home delivery will cost you $28.13 (what a strange price). To receive the tablet edition, however, will only cost you $10.99. You can also buy a weekly subscription for only $2.54, or an annual subscription for $99.


PhotobucketPhotobucketPhotobucket
Left: A built-in tablet of contents page; Middle: articles flow into a story template with a spot reserved for a photo; Right: the subscription page.


After either paying for your subscription (or getting the free trial) one now has access to the library of issues. Tapping the latest issue begins the download process. At this point the app is a lot like the NewspaperDirect app that contains all replica editions.

The reader now is looking at the front page of today's edition of the newspaper, but tapping on a story is where things begin to change. Tapping a headline reflows the story into a native tablet layout. Assuming the story is longer than one screen's worth, swiping the story will take you to the next page.

A button at the top of the page allows the reader to return to the original page. Other user features are built into the app, as well: a screen brightness adjustment button, a table of contents, a search button and a bookmark button.

Susan Preletz, director of business development at Olive Software, told me, though, that "this is only the beginning". Multimedia content will eventually be added, as well as the ability of the paper to update its daily issues on the fly, creating a product that is more like a cross between a daily print edition and a news website.

Former RBI magazines struggle to produce modern websites five months after being given death sentence

It's been a tough road back for the 23 magazines that Reed Business Information announced would be closed back in April of this year. Five months after the original announcement, while some of the titles remain closed, the others have been resurrected, but appear to be struggling to develop a solid web presence.

The titles being produced by CFE Media, the new media company being run by Jim Langhenry and Steve Rourke, have new working sites for their three titles: Control Engineering, Consulting-Specifying Engineer and Plant Engineering. The sites are up and running and have a modern web look.
Photobucket


← New website for HOTELS opts for a mid-90's look.


In contrast, the website launched by Marketing & Technology Group, the new owners of HOTELS, looks like it would have fit right into the mid-nineties school of web design. Presumably this is more a placeholder than a real functioning website.

The construction group made up of Construction Equipment, Building Design+Construction, Construction Bulletin, Professional Remodeler, Professional BuilderCustomer Builder have new websites, as well, though they no longer function as news sites but serve as teases for the print magazines which promise to make their reappearances this month. Based on the Facebook page for Construction Equipment, it looks like the publishers are still building their staffs. In fact, it looks like the editors are using Facebook to repost press releases rather than the new websites.





The old RBI titles are at a disadvantage getting back on their feet -- the old web strategy deployed at the giant B2B media firm was simply inadequate. Dependent on posting press releases, without any mobile strategy, the reborn titles will need to start from scratch.
Photobucket
It will be a tough road back, but CFE Media seems further along than the others. The new websites show that they have been able to produce two print editions of each of their three titles since the RBI announcement (they have Olive Software produced flipbooks online).

The BPA website shows that all but one of the old RBI titles have "Ceased" -- presumably this means that with the exception of HOTELS, none of the titles have reapplied for BPA membership. (The HOTELS listing in the BPA website shows "Filed" under "Current Statement Report Date/Status".)

It has been a tough decade for trade publishing, in general -- and starting up a previously closed title is hard enough under the best of circumstances. But I would have hoped that at least some of the titles would have pursued a web-first (or mobile/tablet first) approach, but none appear eager to go down that road -- at least for now.

Update: Sorry, forgot the usual disclosure. Yes, I've worked for several of the companies mentioned either directly or indirectly here. The B2B media world is pretty small.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tomorrow at TNM: the new Columbus Dispatch new app is a cross between a replica edition and an RSS reader

The Labor Day weekend is both the end of summer, and the end of the summer experiments in first iPad app development. One app released over the weekend is for the Columbus Dispatch, an interesting cross between a straight replica edition and an RSS reader.

Also, just to show that TNM isn't completely obsessed with the new tablet products, tomorrow TNM looks at the progress the old RBI trade titles are making on the web -- it's a mixed bag.

Will piracy of print publishing begin to increase as more publishers adopt paywalls and digital publishing solutions?

A year ago the New York Times pusblished an article on the rise of book piracy -- a form of digital piracy all too familiar to music and film producers. Now, a year later, and with the iPad joining the Kindle as the world's favorite reading devices, electronic piracy of print products is becoming an even greater concern.

Book publishers are easy targets for e-pirates as most books convert easily into PDFs. These PDFs can then be read on the user's computer, or now on tablets. A PDF of a book is essentially a Kindle edition -- exact replicas that offer the ease of electronic reading (font control, zooming, and the like).
Photobucket


→ The unique layouts, animation and video content of Mac|Life's new iPad app makes the product less susceptible to electronic piracy.


But now that the iPad is well established, and more tablets are about to be released, the issue is of print piracy is spreading. NPR's All Things Considered recently ran a piece on the issue as it relates to sheet music.

But as newspaper and magazine publishers begin to construct paywalls, and as they begin to launch replica editions of their publications for tablets and smartphones, they, too, could become targets for the pirates.

Most music and print pirates, unlike DVD pirates, are not sharing content for financial gain. But the effect on publishers is still the same. Nonetheless, there are a couple things a publisher can do to lessen the effects of print piracy.

First, one can continue to pursue an advertising model online, rather than build a paywall. The Times (UK), for instance, would be a natural target of any print pirate now that they have put their website behind a paywall.

But many want to pursue a paid model online so the next logical thing one could do is to not pursue a replica edition strategy for mobile and tablets. By simple producing an exact edition, one would be creating a product that will not differentiate itself from a shared PDF version.

The New York Times received a lot of flak for its first iPad app as it severely limited content; quite a number of iPad owners expressed disappointment in the app. But one thing the app did do was to re-imagine layouts for the new tablet. Because of this, it created an unique product less easily copied.

The problem with most replica editions is that the publisher pursuing this strategy is not thinking through the user experience of the reader. A PDF based copy of their newspaper or magazine is produced to be read on a device with a three inch screen, seven inch screen, or nine inch screen -- are all these experiences the same? Just visualize your own magazine or newspaper if the print edition came in three different sizes.

Because of this, designing native solutions seems desirable if trying to optimize the reader experience. But the side benefit to this approach is that this new product is less easily pirated. Who would want to read a replica copy of a print product on an iPad if a product specifically designed for that device were available instead?

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".
Photobucket
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.
Photobucket


← 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.

National Geographic magazine opts for taking the middle road; going with a branded app from a digital newsstand

The term "middle of the road" is usually used when describing music that is not offensive, and very boring. MOR, as it is often written, isn't quite "bubble gum" but it is not taken very seriously, either.
Photobucket
This is the approach, I suppose, of the new National Geographic Magazine app for the iPad. Created by Zinio, this free app is essentially a promotion piece for buying the magazine through Zinio's digital newsstand. The user downloads the app and immediately gets a few pages of the latest issue to entice them to buy the real thing -- though the first issue is free after registering with Zinio.
Photobucket
Is this a blatant attempt at bait-and-switch? No, I don't think so myself, but lots of iPad users who are writing reviews inside the iTunes app store seem to think so as the app is getting quite a number of one-star reviews.

(It is sometimes hard to judge the sincerity of both the five-star and one-star reviews inside the app store. But one way to get a better feel about a reviewers judgement is to click on their name to see their other reviews -- for instance, are they all one-star? all five-star? An example would the very first review on this app. The reviewer has all five-star reviews, and all magazines -- very strange. The next guy only shows two reviews -- a one-star review for this app, and a five-star review for the Zinio app. Make of that what you will.)


Photobucket
Replica apps must be a nightmare for art directors. You spend all that time making your layouts fit the confines of the printed page and then when you see the magazine on an iPad suddenly the whole experience is lost.

The National Geographic Magazine app is a good example. If you are reading an article in portrait mode and flip to the next page you may end up landing on the first page of a photo spread such as the one at left. In landscape mode one immediately sees the layout as it was originally designed. But in portrait mode the layout does not work. The same is true in reverse: landscape mode in a replica edition is great for two page spreads that contain large pictures, or designs that cross the gutter, but when the digital page contains text from an article on one side, and an ad on the other, the whole experience is ruined by pinching and zooming in and out.

What many publishers and developers are failing to grasp is one simple rule: there is no such thing as a two-page spread on a tablet -- it is just one digital page.