Thursday, December 20, 2012

IDG UK gives its Macworld readers coal in their stockings

The publishing team at IDG UK updated their app today for the UK edition of Macworld and readers of the tech publication have to be wondering if they should consider dropping their subscriptions. The app remains an odd looking replica edition with missized pages, microscopic text and editorial layouts with so much white space the tablet edition will work very well in an emergency as a flashlight app.

Since the launch of TNM I've railed against the use of replica editions by magazine publishers. My objections have always been that replicas are hard to read and an insult to readers who expect that the editors of their favorite magazines will care enough about their craft to learn the new digital platforms and adapt their products for the best reading experience possible – not simply take the cheap and easy way out.
There are places for replicas – archives, for instance, as well as some small publications that are already tablet size – but as a digital magazine the replica is pretty much a fail.

It is particularly annoying in two areas: the magazine trade journal where the assumption is that the editors and writers have experience in the publishing industry and would never consider writing about mobile and tablets without first hand experience; and tech publications where readers expect that the editors of the publications actually like their industries.

The sad fact is that at a lot of big magazine company editors and writers are moved from publication to publication, often editing more than one different industry topic. Today you are the authority on personal computing, tomorrow you know everything there is to know about bird watching. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating – but insiders know I'm only exaggerating a little.

I would assume that the editors at Macworld UK are registered Apple developers, that they have opened up Xcode and actually played with it, that they use Macs to edit the magazine, and that when they write about iBooks Author they do so only after downloading and installing the software themselves. OK, assuming all that, why wouldn't they build their digital edition themselves using the tools they are familiar with. Why, in other words, would they let MagazineCloner do their app?
The problems with this particular replica edition are made worse by the fact that outside the U.S. the typical magazine is sized slightly taller. The iPad is already known for its squarish shape, so almost all magazines find that it is a bit of a mismatch. But European magazines trying to squeeze in their pages onto the tablet's display find that there is a lot of space wasted.

So with Macworld UK the replica cover does not even fit the screen, starting things off pretty badly. In landscape, of course, things get even worse. One would think that things would be better on the iPhone 5 – but, alas, the app does not support offer iPhone 5 support so the shrunken print page is reduced in size even more.

One could rant on about the choices some major magazine companies make, but I think it best to end this post with this one thought: when publishers complain about the App Store, or digital newsstands, or declining circulation and advertising, maybe it is time to wonder whether those at fault are not the tech companies or the ad agencies or their readers, but the publishers who fail to present their products in the best possible light, who take the easy way out, who say "yes" to vendors that promise them "cheap and easy" rather than "state-of-the-art".