Thursday, October 13, 2011

Newsstand: many publishers are eager to jump right in, though considering the alternatives may be wise

On most days there are the predictable stories posted about the relationship between publishers and Apple. The tech sites like to talk about the future of tablets and how publishers will make millions at whatever. Media sites, be they in the newspaper or magazine areas, continue to be mostly negative about anything to do with Apple, often wondering aloud why Apple doesn't do more for them. (It's rather pathetic to read, actually.)

Newsstand on my own iPad.

Now Apple has released its new mobile operating system, and with the launch of iOS 5 comes Newsstand. At noon EDT there are now 220 different publications to be found in the Newsstand store. For some publishers, such as Future plc, the creation of Newsstand was a great time to launch a whole portfolio of new magazine apps. For Hearst, it was the right time to start using Apple's in-app subscription system by launching new apps that are Newsstand compliant.

Like many consumers who rush to update the latest software immediately upon release, some publishers and developers clearly want to take advantage of the latest improvements being offered by Apple, Google, Amazon and others.

In the case of Newsstand, there are enormous advantages to being part of the new environment: magazine or newspaper cover icons, automatic downloads, and the like. For many publications, maybe most publications, Newsstand is where you will want your media app to reside.

But maybe this is a good time to slow down a bit and ask the simple question "are there reasons NOT to be in Newsstand?" There are.

Tracking the new app updates yesterday I quickly saw that many of the major magazine publishers were ready with updates or new launches timed to coincide with the introduction of Newsstand. Newspapers, too, rolled out a few updates and launches: Hearst was ready with the S.F. Chronicle and The Guardian had held back their first iPad effort to launch yesterday.

Late in the day the NYT released updates for both its iPad and iPhone apps. But should the NYT's iPhone app really be in Newsstand?

On my iPhone, updated a week ago to the final version if iOS 5, Newsstand was moved from the home page back to a later page of apps. The reason is simple: I really don't like reading periodicals on my phone. Sure, three years ago when the iPhone first came out, reading almost anything on my phone was kind of cool. But studies have shows that when it comes to periodicals print is still the preferred platform, followed by eReaders and tablets, then phones, and coming in last is the computer screen (more for the kind of reading done on a computer than for the screen size).

Is this really a periodical, or a web-based news product?

But while my shiny new Newsstand app has been relegated to the back pages of my apps, a News folder that I created still resides on the home page. Inside that folder are apps from The Guardian, WaPo, BBC News, Patch, the Chicago Tribune, and other news organizations. The most used app, though, is no longer there: the NYT iPhone app, it's now in Newsstand.

For me, the NYT iPhone app is an extension of the website, not really the newspaper product. That's why I would have been hesitant to add in Newsstand support. There may well have been other reasons why the NYT decided to update the app to move the app to Newsstand such as marketing support from Apple, keeping on Apple's good side, etc. But for other publishers and developers now might be a good time to look again at your app development strategy.

For some publications, launching multiple apps may be the way go: one long form journalism app for Newsstand, for instance, and another that serves daily deals, classifieds and directories in another. Whatever the decision, taking a little time to think about strategy can't hurt.