Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Publishers need to ask the right questions of their new development partners, just as they would of their printers

Every print publisher has had one of those moments: the UPS guy is at the door with a box of magazines, your latest issue, you tear it open and to your horror something is wrong. Generally you will have to live with whatever mistake your print has made, but you are instantly on the phone screaming at your sales representative and eventually begin negotiating a credit on your account.
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Tablet publishing, of course, is a different animal. But like print, it often centers on a publishing solutions provider – in this case the developer of the app. The good news is that unlike print, an updated app can be produced and submitted to Apple if something is wrong. But, in the end, the publisher is again at the mercy of their publishing partners.

This is why a smart publisher needs to choose their developers as carefully as they do their printers. But the questions posed to potential publishing partners are certainly going to be different.

I thought about this when I opened up the new iPad app for the Belgian film magazine Flanders Image (or alternatively, Flanders (i). Flanders I is a free app created by the Belgian web agency Netlash, and the company's website gives no clue that they would be involved in app developing.

One gets a clue that something is not right with the entry for the magazine in iTunes. There is only one screenshot shown. This is bizarre since adding screenshots to your app description is incredibly simple, so why only one shot of the cover?

Opening the app leads you to a page where you are supposed to be able to download the latest issue. Since the app description does not say there is an in-app purchase necessary, you would assume you could download the issue for free. But the app gets stuck trying to load a price and the "Buy this issue" is dead.

How this app made it through the Apple app review process is a little hard to understand, but, hey, mistakes happen, right? It is what happens from this point on that will be important to any publisher.

The day your media app hits the App Store is the first day of only a couple that your app will appear on the first page of the category you chose. Oh, and did you choose the category. In the case of this app, a film magazine, the News category was chosen, usually not where you would find a film product – that would be Entertainment.

So here are a few things I would ask any company that wants to be my developer: once the app is submitted to Apple and is launched into the store how fast can you turnaround an update that will fix any major bugs? In other words, will you give my app priority on launch day so that I know my brand will be protected?

Another: who will be the "seller"? It is very easy to sign up to be an Apple developer, and the cost is only $99. If the publisher is listed as the "seller" who will actually submit the app and complete the online forms, the publisher or the developer? And if the developer, will you involve the publisher in the writing of the app description and the screenshots? (You better.)

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