Friday, April 15, 2011

Hearst's Esquire magazine: Zinio and iPad editions

Readers know a magazine's brand and rightly or wrongly assume that picking the latest copy of a magazine, no matter what the format or platform, will be a consistent experience. This, of course, is no longer the case as publishers move their content from one platform to another.

Replica edition makers sell the idea that a reader wants their digital version of a publication to be exactly like print edition, then publishers see that their print editions don't look the same in print as they do on a 9.7 inch display, or a seven inch display, or a 3.5 inch display.
The April issue of Hearst Communications' Esquire show the difficulties of moving from one platform to the other. The tablet edition, priced at $4.99 in the App Store, gives readers the issue in portrait mode only, saving iPad owners a bit of storage space, but giving the reader a very different version of the magazine than either print, or the electronic version from Zinio.

The Zinio version of Esquire does not contain the kinds of enhancements found in Zinio versions of say National Geographic. The folk at Zinio are rightfully proud to show off the efforts of publications that take their flipbook versions of their magazines seriously by adding interactive content. But the fact is that the majority of publishers continue to let their digital publishing vendors do the work, adding very little to the electronic versions that either sit on their own website as flipbooks, or go into digital newsstands like that offered by Zinio.

What the desktop and iPad version of Zinio editions can offer, however, is landscape mode – a chance to see the two-page spread ads the way they were meant to be seen. Things get complicated in the Zinio app, however, as the app works in both portrait and landscape.

Left-top: the Zinio edition in portrait cuts off half the layout; Middle: the landscape version of the layout in the Zinio edition shows the complete two-page spread; Right-top: the iPad edition, with only portrait mode available, forces a new layout.

Esquire solves this in their app by pulling the print ads and inserting only ads that are designed to be seen in portrait and add interactive material.

For feature layouts, however, things tend to get complicated. In print, the Matthew McConaughey feature is a beautiful spread. On your laptop, signed into your Zinio account, the digital version really pops, no center binding to get in the way of the experience. On the iPad, however, how you see this completely depends on whether you have your tablet in portrait or landscape.

In the iPad edition, however, the art director knows the reader will only see the layout in portrait and is forced to start over.

As a reader each format of Esquire has its drawbacks and advantages: print is mobile, heavy, static; flipbooks (without enhancements) are mobile, static, and variable; the iPad version is limited, interactive, and hard to navigate.
Hearst is not using Apple's in-app subscription services and have not created a "library" app for Esquire. That means that each month readers have to download a new issue through the App Store rather than through the Esquire branded app. Hearst has built in notifications into the app, presumably to tell readers when the next issue is available, but opening the last month's app won't get them to the next issue.

The disadvantage is obvious: the app becomes simply a driver of single copy sales. Hearst, however, offers readers an 11 issue subscription for only $8 in the Zinio newsstand online.

The advantage of individual apps is that each issue gets noticed in the App Store at release, if only for a couple of days. Nonetheless, I doubt Hearst is selling many iPad editions based on the number of reviews inside the App Store. Readers feel abused by a $4.99 price, despite the high costs to produce that first app edition.

Hearst art directors will have to adjust to the iPad's capabilities, and should probably take their Zinio editions more seriously, as well. Additionally, it is painfully obviously that they are still creating a print magazine and porting it over to electronic, rather than understanding that they are limiting themselves by not taking into account digital publishing at inception.

Finally, Hearst still needs to come up with a business plan for tablet publishing. They have probably been diverted by their own efforts outside of the iPad such as the ill-fated digital consortium and App Lab.

Late addition: I forget to mention a little detail that might be important (understatement): it took me 45 minutes on a very high speed broadband connection to download the iPad app version of Esquire. Totally unacceptable.