Thursday, September 13, 2012

New WSJ universal app opens up some news content while locking down the rest; design mimics print while still being native to the tablet and smartphone

Sshould a digital publications designer mimic print design? or should the old models be thrown over board when designing a new tablet or mobile app?

Looking at the home page of the new Wall Street Journal universal app for iOS, one could argue that the designers tried to keep the look and feel of the print edition, failing to reimagine what a newspaper should look like on a tablet (or smartphone). But one could also argue that throwing out over 100 years of design experience would be foolish, editors have had to construct newspaper pages for years and know how organize and prioritize the news.
The new app, simply called The Wall Street Journal, has been getting mixed reviews inside the App Store, but the criticism from readers is not about design but functionality. The app does not support Apple's Newsstand, for instance. Also, the updated app means that users of the prior version will lose their archived issues, though saved articles are preserved.

The app charges $1.99 per issue through the app, but otherwise the app is best used if you have an existing digital subscription (this is why the app does not support Newsstand, Dow Jones is trying to avoid Apple's commission as best they can).

One of the nice things about the app is that it allows readers to choose other editions of the paper, very useful for readers with a special interest in news from Europe, for instance.

The app lets readers access some content for free, basically breaking general news stories, while locking down the rest. The strategy is a good one as it makes the app somewhat useful for non-paying readers, while constantly encouraging digital subscriptions.

This is a far better strategy than that being employed by the New York Times. The NYT digital strategy forces readers to choose between devices, an absurd idea if there ever was one. As a result, while I downloaded the NYT iPad app, it remains unused.

If a newspaper combined both strategies, though – creating a Newsstand supported app that has some some open content but the majority locked – a publisher should be able to drive more subscriptions while also keeping the casual reader looking in occasionally. Of course, this works best for big national papers that can produce lots of valuable content.

Top Left: The WSJ apps lets you choose editions; Top Right: articles with a key displayed are locked down and require a digital subscription to access; Bottom Left: articles are laid out in a native tablet design; Bottom Right: the app gives you instant access to financial information.

It should be noted that the Wall Street Journal's apps for Android are a bit of a mess, which is typical on the fragmented OS. This is certainly one area where the developers at the WSJ have been able to take advantage of the unified iOS platform.