Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Condé Nast's Wired tries its hand at the single-sponsored tablet special section app with 'Creating the Nebula'

The special section is still a tried and true method for pumping up ad revenue at many newspapers (and magazines, too). For some smaller publications, the measurement for whether the special section can succeed is judged by how quickly a sales rep can sell the back page ad spot. Think of it as almost the equivalent of the single-sponsor section.
Condé Nast's Wired magazine is experimenting with using the iPad to produce special sections. WIRED Creating the Nebula is a free iPad app that is sponsored by Cadillac. The app description says this app is the first of a four-part series.

Directed and produced by Annaliza Savage, the app is basically a way of presenting a video documentary about artist Reuben Margolin and efforts to build the world's largest moving sculpture.

As a concept for a special section, this app is brilliant: the app itself is simple (overly simple, but we'll get to than in a second), and the single-sponsor method makes it easy to get off the ground. In fact, whether Cadillac is actually paying anything for this is a good question – I could imagine that this might have been thrown into a proposal as an added-value the same way many publishers threw in web advertising as added-value in the bad old days (you don't still do that, do you?).
If there is a problem here it is with the app itself. Since all it is a video player with chapter navigation the quality of the video player is the most important factor in whether this app succeeds. In this regard WIRED Creating the Nebula is about as bad a video vehicle as can be imagined.

First, there are no video player controls, meaning that once the video starts the only way to stop it is to shut down the app. There is no scrubber, no volume controls, and most importantly, no AirPlay capability. The video player can easily be expanded to fill the screen, but that is about it.

The lack of AirPlay and video player controls so astounded me that I felt it important to click on the support page listed in the app description. No surprise I suppose that it took me to the regular Wired app support page, which did not say anything about this new app.

Second, because this app is essentially a video carrier, it weighs in at 501 MB. A few extra megabytes certainly could have been spared to include some text beyond the one paragraph under the information symbol.

Overall this one looks like a rush job, put out there in a hurry to keep a major advertiser happy. But it is free, so readers can't complain – and like I've said, it's a good concept.