Friday, February 8, 2013

Taking the easy way out to avoid having to learn the new digital platforms usually leads to trouble down the line

There is not a day that goes by that I am not solicited to attend some industry event, I'm sure the same is true for you. If I had an unlimited budget I'm quite sure I could go from industry conference to industry conference and never see the inside of my office for the entire year.

But what would I learn at these events? Not much that would prove helpful, if glancing at the agendas is any guide. Most use vendors to fill up their programs, and some events, especially in B2B are dominated by subjects that are designed to hurt their members (re: content marketing).

Part of the problem lies in the fact that at most publishing companies traveling to industry events is now limited to the corporate offices. A decade or more ago many conferences dedicated a large portion of the program to items specifically designed for editors, sales managers, production heads or circulation directors. Today, at many magazine and newspaper companies, only the head honchos travel on the company's dime.

This probably accounts for so many of the really bad decisions many publishers are making in the area of mobile and tablet applications – a favorite subject of mine. Yes, we can discuss the issue of replica editions versus native apps all day long and it would bore you as much as me. But there are plenty of other related problems associated with giving your magazine title away to a replica vendor.
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Take, for instance, the issue of ownership of the app. No industry conference, that I am aware of, has had a session involving the ins-and-outs of developer accounts, app naming and ownership, and the pitfalls of letting a third party manage your apps.

Who exactly is the publisher of Black+White Photography, for instance? (You wouldn't know it from the app description, but it's GMC Publications.)

I remember a couple of years ago when apps started to appear under the name Tri Active Media. Who is this company, I asked myself. They sure seem to own a lot of magazines, yet I'd never heard of them. For a company with nearly 500 iPad magazine apps in the App Store one would think the company dwarfs Condé Nast. But the company has no website under that name that appears related to these apps, and the link in the app description goes to PocketMags, which is related to MagazineCloner.

Yet lots of publishers appear quite willing to have their magazines appear inside the App Store under the name of this company and deal with the negative reviews that accompany these apps. Why?

Because they are still learning how the system works, how a magazine is "sold" in the App Store, and what is involved with launching new applications. As a result, a vendor that promises a cheap and easy launch can easily (apparently) sell their wares inside our industry.

But once locked in, a publisher now find they have a few problems. How, for instance, do they launch another app under the same name – the name of their magazine? (They can't, unless they open a new developer account.) How do they get their apps updated to fix bugs and are driving one-star reviews? (They can't, they are dependent on the vendor to keep their apps up-to-date.) How do they transition a paid app to a free one with Newsstand support? (Again, they can't, that is the job of the vendor.)

If a publisher knew all this before they launched a new mobile or tablet app they might think twice before committing to a digital publishing solution that promotes the brand of the vendor more than the publisher. But industry events that are filled with golf, tours and vendor speeches remain very much the norm. No wonder we are such easy marks.