Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nomad Editions releases its first iPad app; while business model stays the same, the design concept has moved to tablet publishing model

Some time yesterday the first iPad app for Mark Edmiston's Nomad Editions launched in the App Store, and with its appearance the company appears to have changed their magazine design model from one design for all platforms to a create for tablets model. Unfortunately, the designs have stayed the same, but maybe that will change soon, as well.
At launch, Nomad Editions, launched by former Newsweek President Mark Edmiston, along with designer Roger Black, touted their concept that they could design magazine products for mobile devices, and sort of one design, many devices approach (which I strongly disagreed with).

"There is clear demand for good content on mobile devices as evidenced by the amazing growth of e-books and the terrific response to the magazine ‘apps’ launched on the iPad” said Edmiston, in the company's launch statement. “We believe that there is even greater potential for content designed from the ground up for mobile rather than taking an existing format and converting it to mobile."

When the first magazines launched late last year the first editions of its magazines were browser based, one design that flowed the copy based on the device's browser. For me this was simply an HTML version of the flipbook. The biggest weakness in the design being that readers have shown consistently that they do not like reading magazines on their PCs, and further, that reading them on their smartphones, while initially a novelty, was also the wrong platform. Print and tablets seemed to me to be the two logical platforms.

But the early Nomad Editions magazines didn't seem to be geared for the iPad, despite the words of the CEO, it needed its own app. Well, now it has one.

The Nomad Editions app is free to download and creates a library where readers can download issues of the specially created magazines. Currently launched on the Nomad Editions platform are BodySmart, Real Eats, U+Me, Uncorked, and Wide Screen - all are new launches, exclusively available through Nomad Editions. Readers get access to one free issue, a very smart idea, and then can buy individual issues at 99 cents a piece, or get a year's subscription for the very reasonable price of $9.99 per year.

These prices seem unsustainable to me, but are very attractive and probably are able to be offered thanks to the financial backing Nomad Editions is getting.
Besides the design, which I will discuss more below, the other element of the company's strategy lies with its cooperative publishing model. Publishers, if I may call them that, receive 35 percent of the revenue brought in from reader purchases. No doubt the decision to go to in-app purchases through Apple's App Store will effect the total revenue brought in.

The business model is worth testing, and it is not that different from a model I have been thinking about, though my model doesn't completely lock in editors to one business. Nonetheless, the model has merit. Further, the first magazines appear to be well written and conceived. Nomad Editions are not merely vanity publications but honest-to-goodness attempts at new magazine launches (though the magazines tend to be small due to the number of issues that must be produced each year).

But the concept begins to fail for me when it comes to the end product's design and readability. The screenshots in the App Store or at the company's website are attractive, but they don't really give you a good idea of what you will find inside.

Previously, when testing the issues online, I felt that they were fairly readable, though I simply didn't want to read a magazine on my computer. Now, because of the app, the magazines seem to me to be on the right platform. But, sadly, the designs have not changed.

The reason for this is that the company started with the idea of designing using HTML for online reproduction. This end product would be flexible enough to flow the copy properly when displayed on a small screen like an iPhone, or a larger one like an iPad – all through the device's browser.

Now the same design comes to the iPad app. The result is sort of a replica edition of a digital product. In other words, rather than changing their designs to fit the platform, they are again locked into a design concept. I don't think Roger Black would have created this look and feel had he started out designing exclusively for a tablet. Why would, for instance, a tablet page display a thin column of copy surrounded by grayed out pages? Why wouldn't the designer design specifically for the portrait or landscape display canvas rather than waste so much space? It is ironic that the biggest weakness of the Nomad Editions may be the thing most promoted initially: design (even the "covers" don't fill up the screen).

Going forward, though, Nomad Editions might stand a pretty good chance of succeeding (I wouldn't, and didn't think that five months ago). The magazine subjects are intriguing: I'm interested in exploring Uncorked, Real Eats and others, for instance. Additionally, some of the problems I see in the design might be fixable.

What is missing from these magazines? Basic iPad functions (if Nomad Editions didn't have the support of Apple I would go so far as to say that their app would have been rejected). The app does not allow for pinch-to-zoom, for instance. There is now way to adjust the fonts or font sizes; there is no mechanism to allow sharing of stories or to promote the articles within the magazine (a really poor marketing decision, don't you think?); no social media networking, etc. Now that the first Nomad Editions app has been launched these features could come in the future.

I would never bet against a well funded start-up such as Nomad Editions. Further, I think they are now more on the right road than where I thought they were back at the beginning of the year. it's possible that now that Nomad Editions has bet the farm on the iPad that they could be one of the first major publishing start-up successes of the platform, especially with Apple's support.

1 Comment:

Tablazines said...

I subscribed to a Nomad Edition publication before they even launched the magazines. When it was $3 for six months just to show support for their idea.

However my subscription never "took" for some reason. I've been trying to clear it up with them through email and twitter but they are solely lacking in the customer service department.

At least with the Apple mechanism in place, subscriptions won't get screwed up.

I'm also interested in some follow-up stories after their first year of operation to see how well the company is doing.