Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pennwell launches tablet edition for Fire Engineering

The business-to-business media company PennWell has released its first tablet edition for one of its trade titles. Fire Engineering, a paid circulation, monthly magazine for fire and emergency services personnel, now has an iPad app.
The app's name is probably a mistake by the development team: Fire Engineering: Fire Service & Rescue News an... -- I would think that might get fixed soon.

Unlike the magazine, and like the website, the app and its content is free. According to the Fire Engineering website, a one year print subscription costs $29. This continues a trend of publishers launching apps that don't seem to have any business plans behind them -- a common mistake being made by print publishers, especially those in B2B. The article layouts hint at the possibility of an ad position in them, currently being taken up by a house ad. The size choice was wise, however, a medium rectangle.
The app itself is an RSS reader in three parts: Latest News, Most Viewed, and Videos. I am struggling to figure out if the editorial team has created new feeds to bring into their iPad, and previously released iPhone apps, or whether they are coming for a section of the website -- my guess it that they are new mobile feeds since the content is identical on the iPhone and iPad apps.

The good news here is that this is not a replica app, forced down the throat of the publisher by a flipbook vendor (I didn't mean that sentence to sound so harsh, but then again, I've decided to go with it.) The app allows the reader to share stories through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, and there is a font size adjustment, eliminating the need for pinch-to-zoom.

The bad news remains the business model: since the app and its content is free, you would think that there might be a page offering a way for advertisers to participate or contact the sales staff -- I noticed the same thing on the website. When B2Bs decided they weren't in it for the money, I don't know.

In the competitive world of B2B, having both a mobile media and tablet edition is certainly an advantage. Fire Engineering's competitor, the Cygnus Business Media monthly Firehouse, is a controlled circulation, free magazine (compared to Fire Engineering, which is paid and ABC audited). Cygnus is remains nowhere with mobile and tablet media.

Most of the US B2B magazines found inside the App Store are replica editions produced by either Texterity or RR Donnelley. Even European B2Bs are struggling with their strategy, though they were the first to move onto the iPad -- the app for Publisher, the Swiss media B2B, which I raved about last September, hasn't been updated since it was first released, making it seriously out-of-date.

While their apps still feel like a stopgap measure rather than a full blown strategy, PennWell is at least in the game. Like digital flipbooks, these iOS apps (there are no Android apps that I could find in the Android Market) are a ineffective solution to a complex problem: how to make money through digital publishing. Fire Engineering, being at the top of its class, should find itself in a better position to buy time while the company modifies and improves its mobile and tablet media offerings.