Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A look at the first tablet editions from Times Publishing Company, publishers of the St. Petersburg Times

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the South Island city of Christchurch in New Zealand early this morning local time. The quake has resulted in at least 65 confirmed deaths and considerable damage and injury.

The news from New Zealand has temporarily pushed the events in Tripoli, Manama and Madison from the lead story position for most media outlets. As the day progresses this will no doubt change.

The Times Publishing Company has released its first tablet editions yesterday. The free apps for the St. Petersburg Times and the tabloid Tampa Bay Times brings readers replica editions of the print newspaper, a rather disappointing option for papers owned by the company behind the Poynter Institute. Disappointing because one would like to see PI more out front in the development of tablet editions, rather than following the ol' flipbook model of electronic publishing (though, to be honest, Poynter's columnist have expresses rather negative attitudes towards mobile and tablets while grudgingly covering the developing mediums).
On the bright side, these replicas have all the bells and whistles available to the format. The issues can be seen in both portrait and landscape, there is a thumbnail navigation option, and articles table of contents, and internal help guide.

The app also has pinch-to-zoom, which is absolutely necessary if you are going to produce a replica edition. While pinch-to-zoom is one of the things that makes tablet reading possible, it is a double edged sword. Once the reader zooms into an article the page begins to float about, making it a bit difficult to continue to navigate as pages don't flip as easily.

The pages are definitely crisp looking, and the type jumps off the "page" when viewed on the iPad.

What I am a bit confused about is the subscription process, and how the app complies with Apple's new subscription policies.

Once the app is downloaded and installed, the user is required to sign-in to their account in order to access that day's edition. Current 7-day print subscribers get free access, all others need to register. So I dutifully went through the registration process.
The process is easy enough and is contained completely within the app. Once you are done the reader is prompted to check their e-mail for a confirmation message -- clicking that message completes the process. You can then go back to the app and sign-in.

This is where it gets strange: you are instantly informed that you have a $10 credit, and asked if you want to use 50 cents of that to get that day's paper. My first instinct was to assume that I had just made a purchase through the App Store, though my brain told me no, can't be. It looks different, plus I did not get that confirmation warning.

So, in essence, Times Publishing is giving you a ten dollar credit for registering. Will I be asked to buy a subscription after I use up the ten dollars? It's hard to tell because the paper seems to have been caught off guard that their app had launched. The support page just goes to a contacts page, and I don't see any news of the app's launch on the newspaper's website.

Additionally, the website says that an 'Electronic Edition" subscription to the St. Petersburg Times costs $49 for a year -- quite different than what the price structure is for the iPad edition. To me, it looks like they are -- at least temporarily -- giving away the iPad edition, while charging for the print and e-editions.

A quick look at the Android Market shows no apps from Times Publishing Company for Android.

Times Publishing Company also released their first iPad app for the Tampa Bay Times, the free weekday tabloid newspaper aimed at a younger demographic -- "younger" meaning younger than me, I suppose.

The subscription process is similar in that you must register to access content. But after the reader has received and clicked on the confirmation e-mail they have full access.

As TNM readers know, I am no fan of replica editions, and have more than a few interesting conversations with the vendors that promote them. But these replicas are about as good as you will find. Though continue to not see the point of created electronic versions of print products, these apps are at least well designed and executed.