Thursday, March 29, 2012

The San Diego Union-Tribune gets ready for Opening Day by launching a weekly tablet edition for the Padres

Let's talk more baseball! The A's beat the Mariners today in Tokyo which means that they are both now in first, and in last, as is everyone else in the division.

As I've written in the past, in fact one year ago today, the beginning of the baseball season was always a huge event at the newspaper I worked for in Los Angeles – the Hearst owned Herald Examiner. The beginning of the season meant a special section, Tommy Lasorda giving the sale team a pep talk, and eventually tickets in the nose bleed section on Opening Day. The Dodgers won the World Series my first year at the paper and the team was always in contention.
Newspapers still do preview issues but few have taken the next step of creating a mobile or tablet app dedicated to their local baseball team.

One that has is the San Diego Union-Tribune. The paper has passed through the hands of Copley (I worked for them, as well, but in Santa Monica), to Platinum Equity, and just this last November was sold to Doug Manchester, owner of the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina.

In plenty of time for Opening Day, the Union-Tribune has launched a tablet edition dedicated to the San Diego Padres. Padres Insider is a very simple app that creates a whole new weekly sports product for its readers.

The app is free of charge, and provides the content for free, as well (more on that in a second).

The weekly digital magazine is modest in size (probably a good thing) and can be read in both landscape and portrait. Layouts are what we've come to call "native", with scrolling text boxes sometimes, and sometimes just scrolling pages.

The photography is optimized for the new iPad and looks great. The app description promises video features, live stats and recaps of every game. Since the Padres are still in Arizona in the Cactus League, much of this won't appear in the app until after Opening Day.

I admit that I love these simple native apps. The ability to launch one of these opens up a world of possibilities.

I only have two complaints – one minor, one major.

The minor complaint is that the app description does not contain any screenshots of the actual app. This may be because those in charge may be waiting for the app to go live and want real screenshots. But swapping out screenshots is so easy there really is no reason to wait for the app to go live.

The more serious concern involves the business plan for this app – or rather the lack of one. The app is free, which makes sense, but why not charge for the content – even a token charge of say $1.99 a month or $9.99 a year? The app resides in Newsstand so subscriptions would be easy.

The reason might be found in the fact that the other tablet app for the Union-Tribune – found here – is also free and is based on the news content of the website. The paper's promotions say the app is free "for a limited time", but charging for the app only makes sense if one charges for the website, too.

The paper also offers an e-edition through Technavia. Readers know how much I really don't like those hard to read replica editions.

The paper's management team appears to be throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. Rather than taking this shotgun approach (two bad cliches in one paragraph!) the team should concentrate on creating products that they feel are worth charging for. Believe in your team, learn the platforms, and bravely launch – that's my philosophy in a nutshell (another cliche, I'm ready for the baseball season!).