Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rolling Stone gets an iPad edition, a hybrid edition that needs ad agencies to get on board the tablet bandwagon

You can be sure that media websites will want to rub it in a bit. Jann Wenner famously dismissed iPad publishing and as a result the Wenner Media titles have been slow to appear inside the Apple Newsstand. But today the first tablet edition for Rolling Stone has been released.

Rolling Stone Magazine, the app, is the second Wenner Media tablet edition to appear inside the Newsstand, US Weekly having been released in May of last year. Why the long delay? Did the company feel that releasing an iPad app for Rolling Stone would be a bit of an embarrassment? Who knows, and it really doesn't matter if you are a fan of the magazine, it is in the Newsstand now.
Print subscribers to Rolling Stone's print edition will not be pleased: everyone is being asked to pay to access the digital editions – $4.99 for individual issues, $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year to subscribe. The price, though, does represent a discount over print, so it is possible here that the publisher recognizes that driving readers to digital will payoff in the end – at least from the standpoint of production costs.

But Jann Wenner's point about digital, made to AdAge in May of last year, has some validity still today:
From the publisher's point of view I would think they're crazy to encourage it. They're going to get less money for it from advertisers. Right now it costs a fortune to convert your magazine, to program it, to get all the things you have to do on there. And they're not selling. You know, 5,000 copies there, 3,000 copies here, it's not worth it. You haven't put a dent in your R&D costs.

So I think that they're prematurely rushing and showing little confidence and faith in what they've really got, their real asset, which is the magazine itself, which is still a great commodity. It's a small additive; it's not the new business.
I don't think many publishers would argue about the idea that a tablet edition will end up getting less ad dollars than a print magazine. But then again, most publishers are not looking to separate their print editions from their digital editions, continuing to charge one price for everything, pumping up circulation through digital distribution, but still charging ad rates based on the print price model.

That is why it shouldn't be surprising that the new Rolling Stone tablet edition is a hybrid tablet app, with print ads reproduced as seen in print, and the editorial pages reformatted – we are seeing this more and more in magazines that are maintaining healthy ad page counts.

But I'm not sure the approach woks well here, at least not at the beginning of the book. The two-page spreads seen here are incomprehensible (see video walk-through below). With so much time between the US Weekly launch and the Rolling Stone launch it is disappointing to see that the ad team was not able (or given the opportunity) to go to agencies and swap out copy for more appropriate, more interactive ads. Who is at fault here: agencies or the publisher?

The first issue seen here, dated January 31 (that doesn't make much sense in a digital world either, does it?) weighs in at only 137 MB thanks to utilizing portrait only.
The other thing that keeps the file size down is that much of the links point to outside the app. But by taking the hybrid approach, the editors were able to add audio content that greatly improves the reading experience. Loyal readers, who go digital, will certainly think the digital edition offers great value and a good reading experience.

Also, as you will see in the video, those links to outside content also include links to iTunes where a reader can buy the music being featured. If there is a problem with the approach it is that it takes you completely outside the app and to return the reader must go back to the app itself. Surely Apple would want a more elegant way to link to its own store than this?

(I've deleted the paragraph that ended this post because it violated my own rule about commenting on the content of the magazines seen here, rather than just the app, its approach and its business model.)