Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New Newsstand apps show why you can't judge a tablet edition by its cover, or its cover price: 'Content Magazine' goes replica, while UK wedding blogger builds a native tablet magazine 'Beyond The Magazine'

The past few days have seen a flood of new tablet editions released into the Apple Newsstand, mostly replica editions that are using the Magzter platform (and a few that are actually natively designed, as well). So the appearance of these two new digital magazines – Content Magazine and Beyond The Magazine – definitely got my attention.

Content Magazine's app description was promising: "Welcome to Content Magazine—a bimonthly San Jose based magazine promoting the people, events, and businesses of San Jose." San Jose means Silicon Valley, home to Apple and Google. But only later did I notice that the screenshot of the cover used in the app description was showing a bar scan code, a sure sign of a replica edition.

Sure enough, the app does prove to be a disappointment. But the publisher is certainly doing some things right here. For one thing, the app is appearing under their own developer account name. This allows them to continue to control their brand – it also opens up the possibility of an app update to a native tablet solution at some point in the future. The app supports push notifications, the Apple Newsstand, and appears to be bug free.

The app also has a very nice library and navigation, in general, is well designed.

On the downside, reading this tablet edition is a pain, as one would expect from a replica of a print edition. Ultimately readers will have to decide if they are simply better off sticking to print. Single issues here are, after all $3.99 – no bargain for a hard to read digital edition. The annual subscription is $22.99, and to be fair, this is a discount off the print price listed on the website ($42).

Beyond The Magazine, on the other hand, seemed to me to be less promising. The cover shown in the app description (above-right) seemed pretty minimal, hardly the work of print magazine designers, I thought. Also, the digital magazine is free of charge, often a sign that the new publication is more about feeding one's desire to be a publisher.

Oops, I was way off. Way, way off. Silly me.

The digital magazine is native, which was obvious when the download started – 456MB. The Newsstand app looks like it may have been created with a platform such as Mag+, though I can not be positive about that. The tablet-only magazine can only be read in portrait so its hefty size is the result of being 94 pages in length, and containing some video.

As you will see from the short walk-through video below, the design work is fairly simple, but being natively designed means the fonts work for the reader. In fact, for me, everything seemed to work for me other than some of the layering, but that is a minor complaint.
Source: BeyondBeyond.co.uk
Both "apps" are good, and I would even say that the app quality of Contents Magazine is superior. But readers will find Beyond The Magazine a more enjoyable experience.

One last thing: the name of the native tablet magazine, Beyond The Magazine, comes from the website – BeyondBeyond, wedding blogger Amma Adjubi (above-right). Adjubi describers herself this way on her website:
I am a photographer trapped inside a graphic designer’s body; I love illustration, I am a coder and website designer, I am a writer, I am a golden age (that is 90’s stuff – Souljah Boy I refuse you) hip hop lover/nerd and most of all I am a very lucky girl who gets to indulge in the things that she loves every single day.
It is probably the fact that she describes herself as a website designer that she decided to go with a native tablet edition rather than a replica solution. I found that webbies are far more likely to go native with their first apps than those with print backgrounds – and they seem to be very comfortable with the new digital platforms, as well.

These two new tablet editions have proved a good reminder for me to keep an open mind when downloading new publication apps, and to not assume that just because a new tablet edition comes from an established print publisher that the new digital product will be superior to that from the enthusiastic digital publisher.