Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Denver Post releases an iPad edition of its Ski Guide; native tablet page designs and features, a first for a company previously dependent on third party vendors

This post has been updated here. The update contains important background information on the creation of the Ski Guide, as well as where the Post team hopes to go from here.

Sometimes a wonderful new tablet edition comes out of nowhere – sometimes the app grabs your attention because of its features and design, sometimes because it comes from an unexpected source.

Denver Post Colorado Ski Guide launched this morning and is a fully native tablet edition that blew me away because it comes from a company that has recently launched a series of news apps through a third party vendor, Spreed – and has, until now, not exhibited much ambition when it comes to the tablet platform

One assumes that The Denver Post produces a ski guide every year. The paper's website shows that this year's guide hit the website on the 18th of this month.

Special sections like this one can have a number of different business models: they can be ad supported;  single sponsored; or the editorial itself can be paid for by the ski resorts included in the guide.

This one has me baffled and I have put a call into the editor to find out exactly what model is being used here because I do not see any advertising, and while some of the articles come from freelancers (which is what you would expect from an advertorial section) most comes from staffers.

Since the tablet edition of the Denver Post Colorado Ski Guide is free of charge, then the only business model left would be if the resorts paid to be included. This is an important question because so far I have yet to see any evidence that the Digital First parent company has a clue as to viable business models involving digital – despite their name. In fact, at least one of their editorial advisors has been famously against all things iPad and all things Apple.

My guess is that this is strictly an editorial product, produced simply because skiing is important to the area and its readers. The fact that there is no advertising here, or even a single sponsor would be shocking if it were not for the fact that I continue to see newspapers fail to understand the business potential of the new digital platforms.
As for the tablet edition itself, it is a winner – by far the best thing I've seen out of MediaNews Group or the Journal Register Company (which make up Digital First Media).

The layouts are simple, but effective - designed specifically for the iPad's display. There is good use of slideshows and other native tablet features. The navigation is smooth and logical, and though the instruction page was slow to load, the rest of the tablet edition flowed and rendered quickly.

The editor the special section is Steve McMillan, and Jeff Neuman is credited with design, as well as graphics (along with Thomas McKay)

The tablet edition weighs in at less than 100 MB, so it is a very quick download, yet still includes plenty of photography and some video. The design is portrait only, which saves file size and helps with the reformatting from print.

The app places the special section inside Apple's Newsstand. All of the Spreed apps are stand-alone apps. Because of this I was a little surprised that a token charge was not assigned to the download (say $1.99, for instance). It is certainly worth it and would break the pattern of free apps and free access to content so typical of the Digital First Media mindset.

Here is a video walk-through of part of the new special section tablet edition from The Denver Post: