Wednesday, August 17, 2011

B2B publisher SourceMedia experiments with apps through two vendors, each taking a different approach

These are days of experimentation for many B2B publishers in the areas of mobile and tablet publishing. Most are still sitting on the sidelines, but a few have ventured out of their comfort zone and have begun releasing apps into Apple App Store.

SourceMedia has, for instance, released four apps so far this month, three of which were developed by Texterity, the flipbook maker that has been producing replica editions for its customers, and now a new app, released today, for American Banker.
The apps released on my mother's birthday – very nice of them to do that – are Bank Investment Consultant for iOS, Employee Benefit Advisor for iOS, and Employee Benefit News for iOS. As the names would imply, each is a universal app for reading on both iPhones and iPads.

These free apps are the typical replica editions, faithful reproductions of the print products. But SourceMedia has made sure they are being released under their own name, however. Also, unlike some publishers, here SourceMedia has made sure that to access the issues and other content the reader must first sign into their accounts. This is an easy enough process, and the app gives clear instructions on how to do this.

The apps include a "Feed" area where readers can get news from the B2B publication's website making them a bit more useful for checking in on a regular basis to stay on top of the news.

The app seen here is for Employee Benefit News, a 70,000 circulation BPA audited B2B that publishes 15 issues per year.
The newest app, released today, is for American Banker (formerly U.S. Banker) is from ScrollMotion, the company behind the Esquire tablet edition for Hearst. But since that splash the company has been pretty much invisible.

American Banker is a monthly with a BPA circulation of around 35K. This app takes a different approach. For one thing, it isn't universal, despite the fact that it is RSS driven, something that would work just fine on a smartphone. Second, it doesn't offer a replica edition but instead offers a more native app design look, though it is awfully gray, as you can see.

The biggest problem with this approach is a lack of content. A quick look at the different categories finds that many of the stories are duplicated throughout the app. This is a problem I thought about when looking at launching an app for TNM. For the web, an editor wants to tag their stories with multiple category tags in order to make it easier for readers to search for them. But with an RSS feed driven app this leads to the same story appearing in multiple categories.

The solution I thought up was this: add a new category names just for the tablet. For instance, on the front page of the American Banker app we see that the story "FirstMerit See Quick Adoption of Fiserv Mobile Banking" is showing up three times, under Breaking News, Community Banking and Consumer Finance. One might consider creating new categories named "Community Banking 1" and "Consumer Finance 1". The editor would tag the story in all the normal categories for the web, but consciously decide limit the categories for the tablet. The categories that have the added "1" are then picked up by the tablet app and will contain no duplicate stories.

The other option, of course, if this is too complicated for a given editor is simply instruct them to limit themselves to only one category per story PLUS the breaking news category if the story merits it. It is assumed that the breaking news category will go through stories quicker limiting the amount of duplication.

The ScrollMotion app varies on one other major way: it opens with the sign-in form and forces the reader to figure out how to register. Like the other properties, the registration process was easy, but the app didn't offer any clues about how to proceed.

None of the SourceMedia apps break any new ground, and none are very advertising oriented – continuing the sad trend of B2B publishers losing their focus on revenue. But all of them work, all of them force the reader to be qualified (to some degree), so they are at least minor steps in the right direction.

I don't see why SourceMedia couldn't have built these apps themselves, since they are so simple in design. But the only companies that seem to be making money on B2B media apps seems to be the vendors. Hopefully we will soon start to see more in-house developed apps, especially since it is far harder to design an attractive print magazine than it is to port that magazine over for tablets.