Friday, February 10, 2012

Cosmopolitan gets an iPad app update from Hearst, though readers remain frustrated with the publisher's digital efforts; digital catalogs continue to grow in number with shoppers eager to dump their print versions

The strange thing about digital publishing is that sometimes it is so clear to readers that the publisher's heart is just not in it. Sometimes it is that fact that the publisher outsources the production of the digital edition, and sometimes it is simply that the publisher still believes in print first, only later allowing the content to appear online or in a mobile or tablet product.
Today Hearst Communications updated its app for Cosmopolitan, but readers are still incredibly frustrated with the app and with the policies of the company.

The first complaint is that here we are approaching mid-February, the March issue is already on the newsstands but the latest issue available in the iPad app library is January. Whether this is a problem with the magazine's creative department, or a conscious decision by the publisher is hard to say, but reviewers inside the App Store are trashing the app because of this.

The second complaint is one that is often heard: print subscribers are being asked to buy a new subscription if they want to acces the digital edition.

Having worked for Hearst, albeit many moons ago, and in the newspaper division, my instinct tells me that the company simply thinks these things are annoyance. The company long ago had the opportunity to create a digital division in San Francisco, but the company remains very much NYC based – bad idea. Further, you can see that the UK version of Cosmopolitan doesn't even have its own in-house app, instead relying on PixelMags to make a replica edition. (Different division, I get it, but it reflects the general corporate attitude towards digital editions.)

Esquire, another Hearst title, is showing the cover of the March edition, so maybe the trouble with Cosmo is simply Cosmo. But Esquire also does not offer existing print subscribers free access to the tablet edition, so this must be a corporate decision to anger their existing customers.

Catalogs continue to be a growth area for the iPad. Nordstrom's catalog can be found both in a newly updated branded iPad app, as well as inside such catalog aggregators as Catalogue by TheFind.
The newly updated Nordstrom The Catalogs app now has embedded video content. The app itself is pretty minimal, but at least it is up-to-date and functional.

The app appears under its seller's name, Synapse Group, rather than the retailer's. I assume Synapse is in charge of the Nordstrom loyalty program and this app is just a add-on to their services.

The Catalogue by TheFind app continues to get updated – it was updated again on February 7 – with more catalogs added. But you can see the problem with the app once you dig into it. Yes, there are lots of catalogs here, which is great, but the catalog for Williams-Sonoma, for instance, is still the Thanksgiving edition.

In fact, this is common: the Harry & David catalog is from the holidays, as are others. Not very useful.

But readers love the idea of digital catalogs replacing their old print versions. Reviewers like the idea of the app, just not its execution. But iPad owners have lots of choices now for catalogs. Google catalogs continues to add retailers to the app – and while users complain about bugs and crashes, it is still the one place you can find that up-to-date Williams-Sonoma catalog, complete with embedded videos.