Every once in a while a magazine company does something so bizarre one wonders if their heads are screwed on tightly enough. I felt that way when Tina Brown put Niall Ferguson on the cover of Newsweek to rant about why the U.S. nation needed to get rid of Barack Obama. One is entitled to their opinion on things political, but clearly both Harvard and the U.S. would be better off without Mr. Ferguson, as events have proved recently. Instead Brown got rid of Newsweek. Cripes, the things publishers will do.
Now comes a new magazine title from Future plc, iPad User Magazine, and again I'm left scratching my head. Is this a print magazine that has just launched a replica edition? or is this a new digital magazine that has been designed like print? One can not tell because everything about this new universal app is, well, bizarre.
Future plc has its own digital publishing platform, FutureFolio, which is uses to create its digital editions, whether replica or native. The company's choices about what should natively designed and what should be replica has never made any sense to me. Mac|LIfe, for instance, is a replica, despite being all about computing.
So if you were going to design a magazine about the iPad and are designing the edition that will be read on the iPad, would be simply give iPad readers a PDF or would you design something specifically for the iPad? I think it is a pretty simply question to answer. But in this case Future has give iPad (and iPhone users, since the Newsstand app is universal) a digital edition that is simply a replica of the print magazine.
That assumes, of course, that there is, in fact, a print counterpart to this new app. The app description never mentions a print magazine and there is no link to an 'iPad User Magazine" website.
iPad User Magazine is a major fail. Luckily, Future has produced a number of excellent new tablet-only magazines such as Photography Week and Football Week, so one has to assume that with any publisher as large as Future that there has to be a few publishers less than comfortable with the new digital platforms – that they would be running the tech side of things is a little odd - but whatever.
Launching a new print magazine is rare these days, as only a couple hundred were launched last year – while hundreds of new digital magazines were launched during the same time period.
One thing that is almost a requirement today, though, is that prior to any new magazine launch that a supporting website is also launched. That is one of several odd things about the Future plc launch of iPad User Magazine – where is the website, where is the press release? One could argue whether launching a digital magazine edition of a title about the iPad in a replica is wise or not (it seems absurd to me) but not supporting a title without a website can't be argued about – and maybe I missed the site somehow, but I certainly don't see any link to it in the app description.
By comparison, Vancouver's Guide does a better job of supporting the new app. The new app has a supporting website that is strictly about the app. I would call this the bare minimum a publisher should consider doing.
Ultimately a supporting website will not be very helpful if readers are not drawn to it, then lured to download the new digital magazine. But at the beginning, a workable website is essential. But one of the problems of launching a new app into the Apple Newsstand is knowing for sure when it will appear. This has been a problem since the beginning of the App Store. As a result, many apps launch without sufficient marketing support. Many publishers don't want to tip their hands by launching a site prematurely and so wait until the app makes it into the store. The site for Vancouver's Guide, for instance, has text and navigation that obviously are supposed to contain live links. I have to assume that the reason these are not currently live is that there was a desire to wait until the app was live (the alternative explanation would simply be bad web programming).
The purpose of the supporting website is at first to explain the editorial mission of the magazine, tease it, and to supply any support that might be necessary (for instance, explaining subscription options, how to navigate the app, how to archive issues (if that is any option) etc.). Later, posting articles from past issues of the digital magazine can drive interest in the digital magazine and can hopefully lead to new downloads.
In the past, when Apple listed new Newsstand app in the U.S. App Store, a publisher could at least know that potential readers might see the title at the top of the newly released section. But Apple, in its infinite wisdom, eliminated this basic search option and now only promotes a small number of new apps. For new titles, the chance of getting found in the U.S. App Store is slim unless the publisher themselves can drive some downloads.
(Just to show how crazy Apple's system is right now, a "browse" of all Newsstand apps will bring up 6,000 titles – that is the same number that could be found months ago when there were already way more than 6,000 titles. Where are the others, and how is it determined which titles can be found through a browse of the Newsstand?)