Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bonnier's tablet strategy appears geared more towards ease of production than the reader experience

At first blush one might be led to believe that Bonnier, the Swedish media group which dramatically expanded in 2007 with the acquisition of 18 Time Inc. titles, is one of the more committed publishing companies when it comes to tablets.
After all, the publisher now has 44 iPad apps inside the App Store, releasing 21 new apps in the month of June alone.

But for loyal readers of Bonnier titles, their apps continue to be a mixed blessing. For one thing, a print subscriber is still forced to buy a tablet edition even though Apple now allows publishers to give their iPad versions away to print subscribers. If you are a print subscriber you are forced to make a choice – and maybe this is on purpose.

But for the company originally behind the Mag+ digital publishing system, many of their own magazine apps are little more than replica editions, with no landscape layouts, and no added interactivity. So while Bonnier may have solved the problem of how to create tablet versions of their print editions quickly and easily, it is clearly struggling with the challenge of utilizing the new platform to create unique reader experiences.
One of the newly released magazine apps is Spa Mag. Despite the lengthy app description, the actual app is simply the print magazine digitally reproduced. As a result, the first two-page spread reveals the problems that lay ahead.

In the end, the only reason readers might be attracted to these tablet editions is to save trees and save a few dollars: a one-year subscription to Spa, for instance, is $9.99 on the iPad, but $14.97 for the print edition.

The one Bonnier magazine conspicuously missing from the App Store is the one that has the most potential on a tablet: Saveur. The cooking magazine would be wonderful on the iPad if, and this is a big "if", the publisher committed to approaching the tablet in a more New Media way than other Bonnier titles have.

A look at the magazine's attractive website shows that the team at Bonnier has a good eye for design, but is still committed to using its website mostly to promote print. For instance, the Techniques section screams out for cooking videos to show readers these cooking techniques. Instead what the reader gets is a short blurb with a photo (or two).

(I suppose the one thing New Media about the site is the huge amount of content that is actually aggregated from its competitors. Under "grilling", for instance, there are ten short articles from Saveur and 11 from others sourced from outside the property including from Bon Appetit.)

Quite a number of years ago, when I was working at an online video start-up, I approached the publisher of Saveur about our company creating video for their website. I had a number of good conversations and eventually went to NYC to meet the team. But things fell apart when it was obvious that the CEO of our company wanted to produce the videos alone and then have Saveur host them, all with no input from the Saveur team. This clearly wouldn't work, after all it was Saveur's site, they were the food magazine, so wouldn't it make more sense for them to be in charge of content, and our company to concentrate solely on production?

In the end I left the video company and the publisher was replaced at the magazine. All these years later the online video company still has not gained traction, and Saveur is doing its limited video for its website, an example of which can be seen below.

Whether they are creating enough content to be useful in a truly interactive tablet edition is questionable, but it certainly would be a great way to create a true tablet edition, rather than simply bring out another replica.