Thursday, September 22, 2011

Two different approaches to tablet subscriptions: Philadelphia Inquirer pushes long term subscriptions while the Boca Raton Observer wants customer information

The Philadelphia Media Network has released a new tablet edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning. The free app is a natively designed tablet app for the iPad which requirers readers to subscribe to the tablet edition.

While the app looks good from the outside – I did not subscribe – it is sure to make quite a few potential readers upset.

First, the app does not allow for single copy sales and there is no preview issue included with the app. This means that there is no way to see if the product is something you would want to buy. At a physical newsstand at least the reader can pick up the newspaper and see the headlines; at a curbside box one can see the front page. This is a mistake of design: even if the publisher wants to deny a reader from buying a single copy the splash page of the app should at least be the front page of that day's newspaper.

The second issue with this app is that there is no way for home delivery subscribers to access the tablet edition without paying once again. According to the paper's website, the annual home delivery charge is over $300, and I would have to pay again for iPad access? Yikes.

By the way, that charge is $29.99 for 6 months, or $44.99 for 12 months.
Left: The subscription page; Right: a view of an article.

One of the cries of publishers who continue to demonize Apple is that the tech giant won't share customer information with them – one of the reason many customers like Apple, it should be pointed out.

But I've always found this objection fairly laughable; after all, if you want the information, why not ask for it. That is precisely what this new iPad app for The Boca Raton Observer does.

The new free iPad opens immediately to a log-in page where the reader must supply their name and email address before accessing the issues. Why more publishers don't do this is rather amazing.

The question, as yet untested as far as I know, is whether this simple registration process can't be expanded in order to fill the needs of other publishers such as trade journals. A qualification card, for instance, always starts with the simple yes-or-no question of whether you really want to receive the magazine and then moves on to some industry questions. Can't this be built into a magazine app?
Once the reader submits their personal information, they proceed to the issues.

The app, as built today, is not really a library app where the issues are downloaded one at a time. Instead, there are currently three issues preloaded into the app. Each of the issues is a simply replica edition which must be read in portfolio. I'm no fan of replicas, of course, but I'm not dogmatic about it (OK, maybe I am a bit).

While the replica approach keeps the file size down, the fact that there are three issues here means this app is already 252 MB in size. In order to add a new issue an app update will be required. One approach may be to add in the new issue and delete the oldest one, if the goal is to keep the app size to a reasonable level. At 252 MB I would say they could add a new issue, maybe two, before beginning to drop old issues. A better approach, of course, would be to create a library app where individual issues could be loaded or archived.

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