Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sporting News launches a new branded iPad app, a free tablet magazine that can be customized by the reader

Wow, once again I am writing about a new digital publishing effort by Sporting News as the title has released a new iPad app. The first post appeared on TNM in May of last year and featured an interview with the new publisher, Jeff Price.

Just in time for the start of the NFL season (actually, a few days late) Sporting News has launched a new iPad app. This app replaces the branded news app that was developed by Zinio which I assume had to go away because of the deal Sporting News struck with AOL earlier this year.
The new app, simply called Sporting News, is a digital-only product that can trace its origins back to Sporting News Today, which was a free, digital flipbook that could be found on the Sporting News website a couple of years ago. Enter Jeff Price, the former head of digital for Sports Illustrated that was brought in by American City Business Journals to rejuvenate the brand.

One of the first moves Price made was to revamp the fantasy games operations and to close down the free flipbook. He then partnered with Zinio to create a paid digital magazine that could be found in Zinio's digital newsstand found both online and in its iPad app.

"Part of the struggle that's going on right now in the industry is trying to force fit what your current business model is into this new platform," Price told TNM a year and half ago. "If we were taking that approach we would have started with Sporting News magazine and said 'OK, we're going to put all our energy behind Sporting News magazine and we're going to translate that over to the iPad."

At first the Zinio newsstand solution was Sporting News's only iPad product. "We've honestly put that on the shelf for now (creating their own branded app) and we'll come back to that and find a way to make sure that its available for those folks who'd want to engage with the magazine from a digital content perspective."

But five months later Zinio had built Sporting News its own branded app. That app duplicated the experience of reading the digital magazine through the Zinio newsstand, but offer Sporting News its own marketing.

The biggest issue with the Zinio app was simply that it replicated a print product that did not exist. Further, it really did not have any interactivity in the app such as sports highlight videos, even though Sporting News had signed a partnership deal with CineSport – and while the CineSport videos are really of pretty poor quality compared to what is offered elsewhere they are providing Sporting News with ad inventory in which to sell prerolls.

Left: a typical article layout; Right: the sign-in process.

All those old efforts were put aside with the inking of a content deal with AOL. Since early this year Sporting News, though still owned by American City Business Journal, has essentially become another AOL brand – that is, until this new digital publishing effort.

The new app is less modelled after print than the old app, which is a step in the right direction. I found the app very 'sticky', meaning that navigation was not very smooth on my original edition iPad. It may be better on a newer tablet.

The app has some good customization features that may have been learned through their previous app efforts. Readers can select their favorite teams through the Facebook, Twitter or Google ID sign-in mechanism. Because sports fans tend to want to read about their local teams, this will allow the content to be more tailored to the individual reader.

Unlike the previous app, Sporting News is going strictly with an advertising model here, no monthly subscription purchase necessary.

The design team, though, really still feels like it has its heart still in print, though the section fronts do manage to take advantage of the iPad's ability to display photographs to great effect. The app description also will be "integrated throughout the App", though I did not really see this (maybe I missed something?). but then again I'm not too exciting about seeing more of those CineSports talking head videos anyways.

I think this app is a step in the right direction, and I'm sure most readers will respond positively to the fact that it is free. But the best thing about the app is that it keeps the Sporting News brand alive at a time when it was getting pushed to the side by the publication's agreement with AOL, and the lack of its own digital products.
Left: today's NFL front; Right: the links and tweets page.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

It's a decent app, but certainly one not worth killing the print edition over (which they are).