Hearst Magazines has been busy replacing their original magazine tablet editions, originally built by ScrollMotion, and replacing them with new apps using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite – a big blow for the vendor, but a very logical move for a company wanting to stay relevant in the digital publishing era. You can't outsource forever, despite what some publishing executives I personally know seem to believe.
Unfortunately for ScrollMotion, the company seems to be in denial over the unpopularity of their app editions. Sure, some in the tech media have been beating up the company over large file sizes, but if you read through their posts you'll see that they really don't like tablet editions in general, constantly pushing the web, HTML5 and other digital medium... as long as it isn't mobile or tablets, and is the web. And besides, going with Adobe directly doesn't change much about file sizes.
"The industry overshot the interactivity early on. What we discovered is that most people just want the product itself," Hearst Magazines President David Carey said at a Mashable conference last week.
To Mashable, that was a good excuse to claim that Hearst believes "tablet readers don't want interactivity," the headline they put on the story. I'm not sure I'd want to return to a Mashable conference if I were Carey. "Overshot" is hardly the same as "don't want." Mashable made it sound that Carey had jumped the shark.
What ails Hearst's tablet efforts, if you are to actually read the reviews inside the App Store, is not that the app editions are giving the readers too much, it is that it is costing them too much, when they failing to deliver a stable product. New apps solves only half the issues.
Hearst's policy has been consistent from Day One, anyone want to read the tablet editions will have to pay, even if they are current print subscribers. There is only two possible reasons for such a policy: 1) to move print readers to digital editions in order to save money; or 2) because Hearst doesn't want to spend the money on subscription verification services. I suppose the third option would be distain for their customers, but I'd like to believe they are not that crazy (though since I once worked for Hearst I can't rules this out completely).
But the move to create cheaper, digital editions, with less work required is too enticing for bean counters. This isn't want readers want. What they want is there favorite magazines in a new, digital, easy to read product. Let me repeat that: when a reader says they want their digital editions to be just like the the print edition they mean it. They want them readable, just like print.
But most replica editions are NOT like the print editions, they are smaller and harder to read. A reformatted digital edition, even when designed like the print edition, with no new interactive elements, is not the same as delivering an exact copy of the print magazine – fonts are chosen based on what looks good on the tablet's display, not the print page's specifications.
To do this, the production staff can not completely avoid some work. But do readers need all the bells and whistles thrown in, too? No, that was simply a phase as editors toyed with the platform. Does that mean readers don't want interactivity? If you believe that and you are a publisher you are setting yourself up for a fall. I firmly believe that in the future a music magazine without music will seem as crazy as a film without sound seems to my daughter today. Who would, other than Mel Brooks or Guy Maddin would make a silent film today?
One of the new apps released by Hearst Magazines is for Esquire. The app has gotten an update just yesterday that adds background downloading, a nice addition.
Until now, the Esquire app has received over 700 one-star reviews to less than 200 five-star reviews. Readers called the exiting app unstable and frustrating. But their biggest complaint is that as print subscribers they are being asked to pay again for digital.
One of the only five-star reviews of the most recently written reviews of the apps says this: "This app does not work at all... may be (sic) the worst magazine app I have ever used. Issues do NOT download. Waste of time and money." Obvious hitting "five-star" was a mistake by the reader.
One other five-star review, though, says this: "Way better than google (sic) magazines," the reader writes, referring to the replica edition seen in Google Play. "This newsstand has way more features, videos and music. Totally blew me away."