It was four years ago when Robert Newman headed to the Poynter Institute’s iPad conference. As he describes it in his blog, “It was a heady and exciting moment, and almost everyone at that conference left to go home and launch new, groundbreaking app projects across a wide variety of styles and platforms.”
Fast forward to today, and it’s clear to Newman that the initial excitement for the iPad app as a platform for magazines has plummeted.
“I was recently with a roomful of top magazine editors and creative directors at the National Magazine Awards and it was apparent that none of them had a passion or sense of engagement with apps; iPad magazines simply were not an essential part of their world,” he notes.
Newman sought answers from some of the top magazine makers he knows, and finds no dissent that magazine apps are just not happening in the way they should have/could have/would have. Here’s what they have to say:
Josh Klenert of JPMorgan Chase; formerly of Huffington Post:
“I would not say the app is dead, but it might have a bullet wound to the leg. There is certainly some great work being done in the space, but the scale and audience is just not there and that has a lot to do with replicating the production cycle of a print magazine. A digital product that only updates once a month is a relic.”
David Jacobs of 29th Street Publishing, producer of the Radio Silence app:
“The way audiences behave on-line (and on mobile) is much less predictable than anyone thought it would be. Successful products focus on accessibility, experience and flexibility. Traditionally, mobile magazines have fallen down on all three of those. By the way, print magazines, especially this most recent generation of independent magazines, completely understand this and take advantage of it. Start-up publishers are taking advantage of social networks to find their ideal audience and then sending them beautiful print products. And it’s a great experience flipped around, too – as a reader and a fan of magazines, the joy of searching for (and finding) a new print magazine is not something the average tablet experience can touch.”
Joe Zeff of Joe Zeff Design:
“I wouldn’t say that magazine apps are dead, but that they are in dire need of a transfusion. I continue to be optimistic because there’s no stopping the proliferation of tablets. There will continue to be a market for applications built specifically for these devices. The industry needs to shift its focus toward brand extension. Let’s face it, if consumers can get the same content in their mailbox, newsstand and browser, there’s little justification for downloading a 250-megabyte magazine. Instead, excite them with new products that come to life on tablets: experiential content, utility applications, multimedia delivered offline.”
Mario García of Garcia Media:
“We need to begin to look at the tablet’s peculiarities, to what it can do, and then exploit that. It is not a print publication per se. It is a combination of book, film documentary, a little TV, some radio. It is multisensory, and we have not explored that fully yet. It is also the closest we can come, so far, to a digital experience that matches a lot of the intuitive movements that we are familiar with via print.”
“Tablets are great for watching movies, playing games, reading websites, checking emails, listening to music, tweeting, facebooking and answering questionnaires like this one. And now you’re saying that in addition to all these activities I have the option to spend money on a 350-meg download of a product that is better in print?”
The realities of print vs. digital are clear to us; choose the right platform for your message, and forget the one-size-fits-all approach. Digital subscriptions via magazine apps are not the savior the publishing industry should be looking toward.