Monday, February 20, 2012

Developers continue to take advantage of newspaper publishers and their lack of imagination concerning digital

David Earnest's app, Newspapers for iPad, has been out for quite a while now, but it is still appearing occasionally in the top ten paid apps. At 99 cents, it is not much of a burden on buyers, but with 947 five-star ratings, and only 28 one-star ratings, it remains one of the most popular news apps for the iPad.
PhotobucketThe idea behind the app is incredibly simple: the app gathers up in one place web links to newspapers from around the world. As of this morning there are 5,380 different newspaper links available.

As for the app itself, it does very little. Really.

Clicking on a newspaper link one is taken to the newspaper's website. The website is neither reformatted, nor translated (if it is a news site that it is not in English).

But the app reinforces several assumptions: one, that iPad owners want access to the news on their tablets; and two, that they want that news in a format that is easy to read.

Many younger news executives are not able to remember the early websites that tried to replicate print. The first NYT website tried awfully hard to look like the print edition until the web team finally learned their lesson.

Because the developer's app does so little one could complain that they are ripping off their customers. But at 99 cents, they have priced their service at a level that is appropriate for what is being delivered. Few complain at spending 99 cents when they know they do not have the time to gather up over five thousand links.

I decided that a good newspaper to look at would be the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The paper's website is not bad, as you can see above. Consequently, its representation inside this iPad app is the same. But the paper also has its own iPad, built by Technavia – one of those awful replica editions that tries to cram the full size newspaper into the iPad's 7 3/4 inch long screen.
Like the newspaper aggregation app, the Journal Sentinel's app does not support Newsstand – I would assume that Newspapers for iPad would not be allowed inside Newsstand since it is an aggregation app and the developer does not own the rights to the content. Further, since the Journal Sentinel app requires that you are already a subscriber, readers can not casually access the app and buy a copy of the newspaper.

It is, in essence, a very, very poor idea of what an iPad app should be.

I continue to believe that a built-in translation service would be an iPad killing application. If my Kindle Fire, for instance, had a browser with built-in translation like the Chrome browser, I would be happy to put my iPad down more often. With hundreds of foreign language newspapers available in Newspapers for iPad, this is one area where Apple is vulnerable.