Friday, February 15, 2013

Publishers find unexpected interest in their new apps from foreign readers, but discoverability of local media apps remains an issue in Apple's many App Store Newsstands

If there is one surprise new digital publishers experience when launching their first tablet magazine apps into Apple's Newsstand, it is the larger than expected interest their apps get from international audiences. Total downloads may prove an initial disappointment, but the number of downloads from outside the U.S. is a constant surprise. This phenomenon is not limited to digital newspapers and magazines, I might add.

The reason why this is can be seen if you sign out of your iTunes account and venture out into the over 150 different stores Apple has created. It might surprise some media people, but not every Apple iTunes store sells music and video, but every store has an App Store where digital publications can be downloaded. The Croatia iTunes store, for instance, does not sell music, but has a Newsstand. Not surprisingly, however, not every store is managed the way, say, the UK store is managed: where local publications get promoted inside the Newsstand.

Some stores are dominated by national media brands, while others are a strange mix of U.S. or European titles, with a few local media apps thrown in, as well.

Looking just as some of the European stores, most of the larger countries in Europe have curated Newsstands. Inside the U.K. Newsstand Apple is promoting Nuts Mag – what this says of Apple's image of merry ol' England I don't really know.

In Germany, things are toned down quite a bit, with Zeit Wissen and Der Tagesspiegel getting highlighted inside the category.

It was interesting to see how newspaper oriented the German Newsstand felt compared to the French store where magazines like 20 Minutes dominate. Spain, also is magazine heavy with Hearst's Fotogramas Revista, ¡HOLA! and Women's Fitness from Axel Springer España appearing as top media apps.

The Greek Newsstand remains heavy on foreign media properties with only a few Greek media apps making it into the top charts, apps such as Kool from Polyxeni Balatsinou and ProtoThema HD (TNM post here).

The complete mess that is the Apple App Store is the biggest reason for the large number of downloads of international media apps. Each store shows mostly the same media apps, and as each app is released they enter the same big pot. The good side of this is that iOS device owners are suddenly thrown into a world where lots of publications are seen for the first time. The downside is that it is nearly impossible to find what one is searching for unless one knows the exact name of the publication or its publisher. This is why apps that appear under the name of the vendor rather than the publisher hurt the app's chances at being discovered.

At the very least, Apple needs to incorporate more subcategories for publications. Right now, a Newsstand app can be put into any category the publisher wants. Right now there are 28 subcategories listed on the Newsstand page. "Books" is not listed as a Newsstand subcategory, yet I found over 200 Newsstand publications that chose to use that category as their subcategory including Grow Your own Magazine, a UK publication.

It is understandable that Apple would not want to put too many filters inside the App Store. But added search criteria, such as language, would be helpful for promoting native language publications. Another simple criteria would be newspapers and magazines, though I could understand if some publishers creating unique digital publications would want to be considered both.

The key, of course, is discoverability, and this issue varies considerably in the many Apple App Store Newsstands. Getting this right remains an important issue, and the fact that it is so broken now means that many publications are finding their Newsstand downloads disappointing without really learning whether the fault lies with their apps, their marketing, or with Apple.