Friday, December 14, 2012

A multi-platform approach to digital publishing always made sense; but thanks to the redesigned app stores, it is now absolutely essential

When it was announced that The Daily would fold a lot of poorly thought out  commentaries hit the web that tried to explain why the tablet-only newspaper failed. One of the theories was that tablet-only publications simply can not succeed.

Since I've never been an advocate of anything-only publishing, the idea that a publication would only reside inside a tablet app never had much appeal to me. But the changes to the Apple App Store, and the way both Google Play and work, makes me even more sure that to succeed on a tablet one better try and succeed online, as well.

The accountants are taking over

But before we move on to tablet strategy and online publishing, let me make a comment on what may be happening in the big app stores.

Have you gone to Target or another big retailer and wondered why there are 100 boxes of the same brand of toothpaste on the shelf when it would make sense to you if the retailer put half that number of the same product on the shelf and left the rest of the space for something else? Well, if so, you're not thinking like a retailer.

For big retailers, limiting the number of products reduces costs. But the real key is that the retailer knows, through their own research, that if they put 100 of the same brand's product on the shelf they will do sell more in that category than if they had far less of that brand and had more space dedicated to other brands.
There are limits to how much of this you can get away with. But you can see the thinking behind Apple getting rid of space dedicated to new apps, and handing that space over to big brands like People Magazine or Time. Apple knows it will sell more People subscriptions over time than that start-up tablet-only magazine. (But really, couldn't Apple at least put a button on the page that links to "All" apps in a category?)

But we are now in a world where the big tech companies have become like the big retailers, letting the number crunchers rule the roost. The result is that it is becoming harder and harder for new products to get noticed. Rather than redesigning their stores to make it easier to find something, they've made it hard – on purpose.

That means it will be harder for tablet magazine like Project Magazine (the app icon seen at the top of this story) to be found in the App Store in the future.

But it also means that those tablet magazine start-ups that are supported by a robust website - like TNW's tablet edition – will have a big advantage.

The problem, as any print circulation manager can tell you, is that browsing titles has been eliminated or greatly reduced in the app stores.

On a physical newsstand there are two battles to be fought. The first is getting on the newsstand to begin with, this is the hard part. Later, there is the fight to get positioned better on that newsstand. The first part means you can have some sales (since not being on the newsstand precludes any single copy sales). But better positioning will greatly increase those single copy sales.

Now, start-ups will have to depend exclusively on their own marketing of their tablet editions until they can get the attention of Apple or Google – then they can get a little space on the shelf of the app store. Until then their apps are in the storage room hoping someone searches for it.