Target today issued a major update to its Target for iPad app which brings its advertising circulars directly to its retail customers (without the need for newspapers, I might add).
Version 2.0 is brings a new navigation panel, redesigned home screen and the like. It also throws out its skeuomorphic design for something cleaner and more in tune with the prevailing design trends. Whether you will like the new look will all depend on whether you still love Apple's iCalendar look, or have moved on to the more austere look of what many expect Apple's iOS 7 will look like once unveiled (and probably previewed soon at WWDC).
Leaving aside design issues, though, Targets iPad app remain mostly about bringing the weekly circular directly to customers. In essence, the digital version is a replica edition of what one would expect to see inside the Sunday newspaper – only smaller, and harder to read.
The problem Target faces, of course, is that there is enough variation in regional Target store circulars that one can not easily create a more native tablet version of the circular without a lot of production work. The digital circular is basically a digital flipbook, but without even pinch-to-zoom. But all products have built in links that do pull up a much better looking page with the product on it. In this way, the digital circular is very much like the NewspaperDirect apps where the reproduction of the print page can be used simply as a mechanism that links the reader to the story that has been reformatted for the tablet or smartphone.
Newspapers are, of course, scared to death that they are about to lose one of the last remaining sources of solid ad revenue, their circulars. But their strategy seems to be to repeat the mistake made with classifieds: outsource the solution to a third party vendor that will, hopefully, trickle down some revenue to them through their investments. This strategy has led to the companies like Classified Ventures existing and preventing their newspaper partners from experimenting on their own with the category.
In others words, as usual newspaper executives are proving to be their own worst enemies.
I actually see these new ventures as creating more competition for newspapers, not less. Agencies will be encouraged to pull their ads from newspapers to be placed in national networks that will net far less for their newspaper partners.
But the real problem with these new ventures is that eventually become as stale and uncreative as the newspapers that created them. Careerbuilder, Cars.com and the other "pure plays" created to save classifieds have been slow to adapt to mobile and tablets. Let's face it, not only don't newspapers get digital, they also don't get the way Silicon Valley works, with its constant innovation, turnover, confusion, excitement, and uncertainty. Newspaper execs like to wake up in the morning and think nothing has changed since they went to bed, digital folk assume something major has occurred.