Thursday, February 14, 2013

Golf Digest launches Golf Digest Stix, a weekly online flipbook magazine, then releases iOS app in support

On January 23, the editors of Golf Digest launched a new e-magazine for golf enthusiasts called Golf Digest Stix. Readers were encouraged to sign up with their e-mail addresses and the new digital publication would be delivered to their inbox every Wednesday.

The idea is similar to weekly e-newsletters that many B2B magazines produce, only rather than producing the product in the form of an e-newsletter the format here would be that of a digital flipbook.

I didn't know of the launch of Stix simply because I am not a regular Golf Digest reader. But today I saw the release of the new universal iOS app for the new product and downloaded it immediately – that is precisely what I'm sure the editors hoped would happen, reaching new readers through the App Store and the Apple Newsstand.
 photo GolfDigest-iPad-sm_zpsb2590343.jpg
In essence the new universal iOS app, Golf Digest Stix, is a replica edition of the online flipbook. This is the same idea as that of Residential Building Products in that the app is a replica of an already existing digital edition. But in the case of the B2B publication, for some bizarre reason the original layouts were modeled after print so that the publisher ended up creating a replica edition of something that doesn't even exist in the real world.

Here, the app is a replica edition of the flipbook, and the flipbook is the original product – that is, the editors designed the publication around the flipbook specs. As a result, the tablet edition doesn't quite fit the size of the iPad's display. The iPhone version has bigger problems in the the app does not support the iPhone 5.

Why these design decisions were made becomes understandable when you discover that the iOS app  was created by Texterity, the flipbook vendor. In other words, this was a flipbook launch from the beginning.

I find that an odd and very outdated approach from a Cond̩ Nast owned publication. Creating flipbook products is, well, so last decade. But if one is going to start by creating a flipbook one might have thought ahead and considered whether an app would follow. If so, then design the pages for the iPad first, then create the flipbook from those specs Рafter all, the online flipbook can be just about any size, there is no "correct" size for an online product, but there is for the iPad.

Interestingly, this app does not support the iPhone 5's larger display, yet the pages fit the specs for the iPhone 4 pretty well - though reading this on a phone is impossible making one wonder why they even bothered.

Left: the library page for the new app as seen on the iPad; Right: the masthead is almost unreadable in the online flipbook, incredibly hard to read on the iPad, and on the iPhone... well, good luck.

As I have written before, the online flipbook is the least favorite way a reader reads magazines, according to industry research. Launching a flipbook, therefore, should be the last digital product created, not the first. But I assume the editors were hoping to drive readership through e-mail, so the logical product to create would be either an e-newsletter or an online magazine. I think, if this is correct, that they were right. I just don't think it should have guided their design decisions.

The good news here is that the editors were very much right to want to create new digital products such as Stix. These types of products increase magazine awareness, reach new readers, and can attract new advertising. Bad design decisions aside, the launch of new digital publications that expand and extend the offerings of a publisher is at the heart of future digital magazine publishing strategy.

Finally (added later) I think it is important to point out that while this new digital magazine may have originated as a flipbook (boo) it is still a very finely pieced together digital weekly when compared to off-the-shelf e-newsletters often driven by a magazine company's CMS. If the editors made some font adjustments, changed the page specs to match the iPad, this would be much nicer, and it wouldn't hurt the online flipbook one bit. In other words, it's a start.