Monday, April 23, 2012

B2B magazine HOTELS launches replica edition app into the Newsstand; app was built by the printer, RR Donnelley

One way some B2B publishers are making their debuts onto tablets is through their Flash flipbook makers or through the new services their printer can offer.

RR Donnelley, for instance, is not only creating Flash-based flipbooks for some of its print customers, but has launched 22 separate tablet editions into the App Store. One of the problems all these apps have, as far as this former B2B publisher is concerned, is that they appear under the RR Donnelley name rather than the publisher's. They are all, of course, replica editions, designed originally to be read not on a tablet but in print form. But more importantly, none of these vendor created apps try and tackle the biggest issue surrounding B2B magazines on tablets, the issue of qualification versus free access.
A good example of this is the app for Building Design & Construction, the B2B title that used to be owned by Reed Business Information, but was resurrected SGC Horizon. (Disclosure: I worked for both RBI and Scranton Gillette in the past.)

I ran a post on the app back when it first launched in September of last year and not much has changed since that time. The app is a really minimal replica edition – minimal because there is no pinch-to-zoom, making the app edition totally impossible to read (and calling into question the authenticity of the five-star reviews in the App Store). With no accommodations made at all to the tablet, and with no font adjustments possible, one must have 20-20 vision and a new iPad to have any hope to read the magazine (I have a new iPad, but not 20-20 vision!).

But the main issue remains qualified readership. The app and its issues can be downloaded by anyone, meaning that the publisher loses control over who will read the digital edition and the important subscriber information that comes through the qualification process. I suppose that the good news is that the app edition is so hard to read that few would choose the digital edition over print. But then this begs the question "why would you launch the app in the first place?"

Another B2B publisher who is also letting RR Donnelley** create their online flipbooks and now their tablet editions is Marketing & Technology Group. They have just released a new app for HOTELS Magazine. But whereas the app from SGC appears under the printer's name, the Chicago-based Marketing & Technology Group has secured an Apple developer account so that their new app will appears under their own name.

Another difference is that the app requires you to pay to access the issues – $9.99 per issue, or $17.99 for three months. Quite a hefty price tag, no? The app has a log-in feature, but I have no clue what that is for since the app description does not state that current subscribers can access their digital copies for free. I tested the feature by registering with the site, but all I got when I typed in my user name and password was an error message that said "Authentification failed".

The app description also states that there is a free sample issue available, but none could be found at the time I reviewed the app (I'll check back later).

It is possible that the vendor or publisher simply was not ready for their app to appear in the App Store – this happens quite regularly. A sign that this might be the case is the fact that under "What's New In This Issue" is this helpful text: "0066ff, standard". If you don't recognize that, it is web color code.

I can certainly understand why the publisher would want help from their printer to launch an app edition. A look at the HOTELS website shows that this is not exactly a very digitally oriented publishing company (their website looks like something from 1995). But the company now has a developer license so that means that the world of mobile and tablet publishing is now open to them. Hopefully, they take the next step and begin to explore what is possible on the platforms.

Another magazine app also appeared today in the App Store that appears to be from RRD: Commonwealth Magazine from the Virginia Association of Realtors. Because it, too, appears under the publisher's name – in this case, the real estate board – one wonders if RRD is making this a standard practice now – it appears so since most of the apps under the RRD name were released originally last year.

** While these apps appear to come from RR Donnelley they all have the same line at the bottom of their app description: "Inclues patent-pending Media Deck technology". I've always associated that with the firm BlueToad. But RRD recently bought LibreDigital so I must admit to not knowing all the details of who really is responsible for these apps.