Friday, February 18, 2011

St. Louis Post-Dispatch uses Verve Wireless to launch first iPad edition; app and content are free, why buy print?

Publishers and media critics have been quite vocal in their criticism of Apple's new subscription policies, claiming that they are potentially hurting their businesses. But then you see an app like the one for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and you wonder: really, who is doing more damage to their business, themselves or the tech companies?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch for iPad is a pretty nice app. Developed with Verve Wireless, the app provides for both portrait and landscape reading, is fairly easy to navigate, and except for a strange content glitch here and there, is pretty thorough.

But the app is free, and once installed, the content is free. The app's description gives no clue about future changes to this situation, so I immediately wondered if readers in the St. Louis area might just decide to bag their print editions for this app. Sure there are few local ads -- which is still maintain drive readership almost as much as editorial content -- and one wouldn't get those Sunday inserts, but free is free.
The online story at least hints that this situation won't be permanent. "Search for Post-Dispatch in the app store," the story says, "and download your free introductory subscription today."

I wonder how many customers get mad when they finally find out that this won't be free forever. It would have been nice to include this in the app description, don't you think?
But, as I said above, the app is pretty good. The main navigation is at the top of the page where the user can locate the various sections. The in-app instructions are really badly done and should be completely redone for an app update. On the bottom are some additional navigational buttons. At first I thought the "STL sports" button would take me to the sports section but instead it took me to a strange looking page with duplicate stories. I really have no idea what this section is about.

The front page of the print edition, courtesy of the Newseum.

One thing for sure, though, the tablet edition works much better in landscape mode that in portrait. In portrait, the layouts look very, how shall we say this, very tabloid-like. That wouldn't be bad but the Post-Dispatch doesn't look anything like this in print. Far from it. (See screenshot, care of the Newseum website.)

But in landscape mode it looks a bit better, especially once you dive into the sections.

The app doesn't leave much room for advertising. The front page ad for Bommarito, a local auto group, is only seen in landscape and is replaced with a house ad in portrait. Because of this, unless there are redesign changes, the app will have to depend eventually on paid subscriptions.

The managers at the Post-Dispatch have certainly thrown the kitchen sink into this tablet edition, there is a lot here, from weather to videos, to social network sharing. I certainly think this is a better solution than a replica edition, that's for sure. But now the key will be whether the team can tweak this app into shape over the coming months. Oh, and it would be nice if they warned those who download the app that eventually they will be charged.