Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Publishers who do not 'own' their apps face possible nightmares down the line; two new magazine apps

Today should be a great day for two publishers as their first iPad apps have hit the App Store. But, sadly, one of the publishers is probably questioning the wisdom of their decision to go with a third party to create their first tablet edition, while the other is just thankful not to be in the shoes of the other.

When you see a new media app in the App Store what is the first thing you look at? Is it the screenshots, the app description? For me, I like to see who the 'seller' is – the person or company listed as the creator of the app. For large companies it is most often the publishers themselves, as in 'Condé Nast Digital' or 'Hearst Communications, Inc.'
But for small to mid-sized publishers the 'seller' is often the third party developer – as in Texterity or Magazinecloner.com. The name of the developer often gives you a pretty good clue what you are about to see in the final app: native apps for those publishing under their own names, replica editions when you see the developer's name.

There are certainly exceptions such as two new apps from the developer Produtoralink from Brazil: Status, a men's magazine from Mexico, and Istoé Dinheiro, a Brazilian financial magazine.

The developer here appears to use the Mag+ system developed and used by Bonnier. The system allows publishers or developers to take their InDesign files and convert them for use in a tablet edition.

The signs of the process are obvious as you open the app: text boxes located within page designs that allow for scrolling within the frame, the use of animation for photo galleries, etc.
Both apps are free to download and give you free access to the latest edition. The apps create a library where the reader downloads the issues. Status is offering the May issue, which weighs in at 274 MB – quite large for a magazine that only offers portrait layouts. (The problem of creating only a portrait mode for your app becomes instantly apparent when you run into two-page spreads as seen at left.)

But the download was fairly quick and the reading experience was pretty good, though I will admit that my lack of Spanish skills limited to me to evaluating the layouts, animations and navigation.

Then there is the Revista Istoé Dinheiro app: if I were the publisher I would be wondering why I let the developer act as the seller.

Opening the app takes you to the same library set-up, with the same Status magazine available to download! Yep, the developer messed up big time and included the same magazine for download for both publishing clients.
For me, this is a reminder that I would want more control over my app development, even if I was using a third party to create the app. Yes, there are advantages to having someone house your files, etc. But you only launch once and this launch was blown.

Becoming an Apple developer is not expensive, and the process of submitting apps is simple. Most importantly, by becoming an Apple developer you can test your own apps, a process called ad hoc testing or distribution. An ad hoc app acts like a live app except that it isn't actually in the App Store. I should think that ad hoc testing would be essential for publishers and editors prior to final submission of the app to Apple.