Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dennis Publishing's iPad app for The Week UK takes a good approach to app and text design

The tablet edition for The Week UK from Dennis Publishing was updated today after being originally released last month. The app does a lot of things right and could be a good app to copy for those looking to find a solution to smaller displayed tablets.
The free app, The Week UK, will be charging a subscription fee of $35.99, but for now issues can be accessed free of charge thanks to the sponsorship of Rolex. The app states that single issues would normally be $2.99.

Upon opening the app you are immediately requested to give the publisher your email address, though this can, in fact, be bypassed. One can also register your print subscription, but according to the app description print subscribers are only going to get free access until February 16 – current readers will not like that one bit. (Update: I'm told the pricing may change from what is currently in the current app description.)

But the app does some other things that might be worth learning from. First, the idea of at least one free issue is a good one to get the reader interested. Second, the single sponsor model for early issues is a tried and true way to start off for many new tablet editions.

But once inside the actual issues this is where some techies might be disappointed, but I think readers will be delighted. The actual issues are pretty simple in design – basically using a mobile publishing model of simple text layouts. This model, kind of a cross between a Kindle Edition and an iPhone mobile app, might work wonderfully for those trying to find a formula for distributing their magazines onto 7-inch tablets like the Kindle Fire. Since the fonts can be adjusted reading is very easy and comfortable on the iPad and would be, as well, on a smaller tablet.

The app lacks a lot of the bells and whistles one might find on an app from some other publishers, but this model fits The Week very well.

If you are considering publishing for the smaller tablets you might want to take a look at this one and imagine the app not as you see it on the iPad but how it might look on a Kindle Fire.

Left: The sign-in process at opening; Middle: the registration page, which can be bypassed; Right: the article index and cover page.

OK, so if this app might work on smaller tablets, maybe I'd be smart to look inside to see if Dennis Publishing has already released a version of The Week UK there.

Sure enough there is one and so I immediately subscribed to that app to take a look at it on my new Kindle Fire (this line of work on getting very expensive with all these tablets coming out).

The Kindle Edition (found here) is, like other magazines inside the Kindle Store, a replica edition with what's called "Page View", with a "Text View" added. This makes reading the magazine much easier. It, too, has font controls to assist readers, like myself, who occasionally need to reach for the reading glasses.

But the text flow is not always right, with some text oddly wrapping pictures in awkward ways. Also, the feel is of a Kindle Edition, not a native app – so it doesn't feel like a magazine the same way the newer iPad does.

The reviews inside are very interesting. One reader says that the Page View is too difficult to read and asks that the publisher make a Text View, apparently unaware that it already has one.

Another reviewer goes into great detail why they are disappointed in this tablet edition:
I was looking forward to being able to subscribe to this magazine on the Kindle Fire in order to cut down on the number of paper magazines I receive. Unfortunately, as already stated by others in their reviews, the Kindle Fire edition is virtually unreadable in the standard magazine view format. The text is too tiny to read, pinch and zoom is an option but results in unwanted page turns, double tap to zoom works better but requires you to frequently zoom in and out - an annoyance that takes too much time.

For those unfamiliar with The Week's layout, it is a highly useful feature. Two page spreads often have a small map of the world in the bottom center, with columns on each page pointing to the map. The reader can quickly spot articles that pertain to regions of interest. However, reading the articles on Kindle Fire in text view (the only truly readable view) completely eliminates the usefulness of this feature and the layout.
This is the conundrum facing publishers, especially those publishing to smaller tablets: readers expect the digital edition to be exactly like the print, but maybe with interactive elements thrown in, then are disappointed when the exact copy turns out to be unreadable.

As Steve Jobs would say, maybe it is a bad idea to ask readers what they want when publishers are in a better position to deliver the goods. We know our readers what to be both entertained and informed, if they can't read the text they certainly are going to be disappointed. This is why I caution publishers to not confuse the content with the product. A print magazine has content, as does a digital magazine, but the end products must be different because the formats are different, even if the content is the same.

Update: Paul Lomax, CTO at Dennis Publishing, was none too pleased with my original headline that suggested that print readers will be ripped off for having to pay after the initial free period is over. I decided to give the publisher the benefit of the doubt by altering the headline, but I left the copy unchanged as I still believe that any publisher that forces print subscribers to pay an additional fee for digital access will get negative feedback.