Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The San Francisco Chronicle uses Mag+ to design and launch new weekly tablet-only magazine for the 49ers

When I graduated J school many years ago I bolted the Midwest and moved to Los Angeles, ending up working for the Hearst daily newspaper. Those were glory years for Southern California sports as the Dodgers and Lakers won championships, and the two Pac 10 schools regularly won the Rose Bowl – and as newspaper man I often was there to see it all happen. (Thanks Ann for all those Lakers tickets.)

During my time in L.A. we even had a team win the Super Bowl, though we needed to steal Oakland's team to do it. But one team up north constantly held back the Rams - those damn 49ers, led by Joe Montana.
So when I moved to the Bay Area I really didn't want to like the 49ers. But I was easily wore down (winning will do that) and eventually adopted all the Bay Area teams as "my teams" - and they still are.

The 49ers have had some rough years lately but they are definitely back. The team went into Lambeau Field last Sunday and beat the Green Bay Packers, pretty much confirming that last year's improvement was not a fluke.

To capitalize on the renewed interest in the team, the San Francisco Chronicle has released a tablet-only magazine into the Apple Newsstand: 49ers Insider.

The new app promises a weekly digital magazine for 49er fans – though the press release says the app will actually deliver a twice-a-week reading experience – and at a very modest price of $4.99, as well.

The new digital magazine is being edited by Susan Fornoff, who is probably doing the work as a freelancer as she has her own online magazine called GottaGoGolf. That magazine is an online flipbook, which we know is the least popular digital platform for readers.

This new digital magazine for the 49ers is built using the Mag+ platform.

The new app was released just in time for last weekend's first game and contained a season preview issue. Today readers can find an issue that covers the first game of the season.

That new issue weighs in at 449.1 MB, an enormous file size for a digital magazine that only supports landscape and contains no video content. The app does support the higher resolution of the new iPad, though, and may account for the heft of the issue.

The reading experience is a bit rough as I found the navigation 'sticky' – pages are slow to move when swiped and occasionally pages fly around as the app tries to catch up. The video below took a while to capture as several times the app reacted in a haphazard fashion.

But these problems can be overcome through some optimization, and the designers getting comfortable with the digital publishing platform.

The magazine pages themselves are well designed and take use the fairly standard practice of scrolling within stories and swiping to reach the next story. Jeremy Yingley is credited as designer, and Luanne Dietz as photo editor. Again, both appear to be freelancing the project. (Attempts to reach the editor have so far not been successful.)

Editorially the issue is fairly interesting, though the idea of adding a "Cheerleaders Gallery" was pretty juvenile. Worse, believe it or not, there is an ad for "Erectile Disfunction" in the middle of the feature. (What would ESPN say? "Come on, man!")

The new tablet edition contains a number ads, which as TNM readers know, I consider a good sign (no ad bashing here at TNM).

The fullscreen ads, though, are not very interactive, containing at most a link to a website. The auto ad from City Toyota, in particular, was a missed opportunity as I am quite sure the auto store has a TV commercial it could have embedded.

Of course, with more interactivity would have come a bigger file size. But these early issues will be the ones the sales team will want to present to potential advertisers, so showing the capabilities of digital magazines would be important.

What will be interesting to see is if the ad team can sell the magazine – that is what this is all about, as at $4.99 a reader, circulation revenue will be modest.

The ads are not intrusive, occurring between a few stories, and inside a few others. I wouldn't expect any reader complaints.

I hope I have the opportunity to do a follow-up story on this new digital magazine as I think it would prove instructive to other papers looking to follow this example. In particular I would love to know how involved, if at all, the ad teams were in the creation of the app, and why the paper felt it necessary to use freelancers.

Creating new digital products like 49ers Insider is exactly what this site has been advocating for over two years. Only through creating new digital brands do newspapers stand a chance of reversing their ad revenue declines.

But it is equally important that digital launches be ingrained, a home grown affair. Outsourcing much of the work limits the ability for the staff to learn the necessary skills to launch more such products.

The Chronicle is bureaucratic mess, it always has been, and this may be why freelancing the digital magazine was necessary. But let's hope we start seeing more products like 49ers Insider, though a similar magazine for the Cowboys is not desirable!

Here is a video walk-through of the second issue to be found in the library of 49ers Insider:

1 Comment:

Susan Fornoff said...

Hello from the editor and thanks for looking over our enthusiastic though bumpy early efforts. I signed on to this project because I was so excited about its potential for success and also about making wider use of the amazing content the Chronicle produces every day. I can envision generating a variety of niche digimags like this one that segment readers in ways that will appeal to both advertisers and readers. We've also found some quality freelance contributors so that we're not just duplicating the Sporting Green. I'm a Ravens fan (different Harbaugh) and would love to be able to get something like this about my team!