Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hearst's unimaginative replica edition for Food Network Magazine leaves the market open to digital start-ups

Imagine for a second that you were tasked to create a tablet magazine. Next imagine that you had access to video content, lots of video content. The two naturally go together, right?

Well, they do if you are thinking about creating a tablet magazine. But most publishers don't think this way. For traditional publishers, the goal is not to create a tablet magazine but to get their print magazines onto tablets. It is a subtle but important difference.
A perfect example of this is the new tablet edition released by Hearst Communications for Food Network Magazine.

The Food Network is a popular cable channel that is owned by Scripps Networks Interactive and the Tribune Company. Food Network Magazine is a joint venture of Hearst and Scripps.

Unfortunately, Food Network Magazine the app not a joint venture but rather Hearst's idea of what readers what for their iPad – an exact replica of the print edition.

The app is free to download and one month subscriptions can be bought for $1.99 and annual subscriptions for $19.99. You will have to pay this even if you are a print subscriber.

This is true of all the Hearst tablet editions which is why the reviews of the tablet editions are almost always negative.

Previously, Hearst was releasing apps for Food Network Magazine that were stand alone apps - such as the last one for the December 2011 issue. Food Network Magazine December 2011 cost $3.99 to download and was, of course, also a replica edition.

My assumption is that the people at Hearst only see tablets as just another distribution channel to sell single copies. Nothing in this tablet edition makes sense – from the lack of cooking videos to the continuation of the left page - right page formula (could you please point out the left hand page on my iPad?).

Left: the library page for the app; Middle: the advertiser of this two-page spread is not revealed until one reaches the second page; Right: the table of contents uses fonts that probably make sense in print but are far too small to read in a replica edition.

Eventually someone committed to digital publishing will produce a great cooking magazine, it is inevitable. Rather than still images with text, cooking videos will demonstrate techniques. Further, these videos can be streamed onto a TV making them essentially a new cooking channel. Both Scripps and Hearst are in danger of seeing their franchises become obsolete.

Here is the standard video walk through of the new app: