Thursday, September 8, 2011

B2Bs continue to launch vendor developed replica editions without reader qualification mechanisms

A slew of new magazine tablet editions have been released following the Labor Day holiday. This is the first of several posts on the new iPad apps.

While the consumer magazine field continues to explore many different models for creating tablet editions of their titles, the B2B industry remains far behind. Part of the reason for this, of course, is the small staff sizes and lack of technology expertise many B2Bs deal with. As a result, most B2B publishers are at the mercy of the services their printers and other vendors can offer.
The result is that replica editions rule the day. These exact duplicates of the print edition are extension of the digital flipbook many of these vendors also offer. And while a few publishers are beginning to require that readers register to access the flipbook, most do not leading to unqualified readership and a complete lack of understanding of who is reading the digital product.

Yesterday a slew of replica editions for B2B publications hit the App Store including these two from RR Donnelley, the giant printing company. Donnelley currently has 26 different iPad apps under its own name, and 19 iPhone apps available.

Building Design+Construction is the former Reed Business Information (RBI) trade magazine that serves the commercial architectural and construction markets. The BPA audited magazine reaches 75,000 subscribers. When the book was closed, along with dozens of others, in the RBI divestiture of U.S. properties it was relaunched by its publishing team. It is now part of SGC Horizon, a division of Scranton Gillette Communications. (Disclosure: I worked for SGC from 1995 to 2000.)

The new iPad app, Building Design+Construction Magazine, is a typical RR Donnelley offering: it is free and was released under Donnelley's name, not the publishers. It offers minimal interactivity (just a few live links) and can be read in both portrait and landscape, though like all replicas it really doesn't work well in landscape.
For publisher desperate to have anything in the App Store to placate inquiries from advertisers who want to know what the publisher is doing about mobile and tablets, this kind of app does the trick, I suppose.

The app does offer the ability to read the stories as text only. Like all converted flipbooks, there are some enhancements added like an advertiser index and navigation tools.

Glass Magazine is a nearly identical application, only this one is being sold under the name of Dartmouth Printing Company. The 11 time per year trade journal is the official publication of the National Glass Association.

What both apps share in common is a little line stuck in their app descriptions: "Included patent-pending Media Deck ™ technology." The only company that uses this term is Blue Toad so one wonders if Blue Toad is doing these apps for the printers.

In the end I think B2Bs would be wise to demand more from their vendors than these unbranded iPad apps. If a publication is still BPA audited then reader qualification mechanisms seem a minimum requirement. Luckily, Apple is a little more lenient about links and forms when the app is free of charge.

Further, launching app under your own name is very easy process, and the $99 charge is hardly going to be a backbreaker any company – especially since the charge is incurred by the company, not the magazine title (in other words, if you have ten apps the fee is still $99).

Back in the mid-to-late nineties B2B media companies were spurred onto the web by pure play competitors like VerticalNet. We may need another pure play, a company that launches tablet-only B2B publications, in order to force the hand of the established B2Bs to start taking tablet publishing more seriously.