I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming response to my post from yesterday, “My iPad Magazine Stand,” in which I laid out my thoughts on why most of the current crop of iPad magazine apps have dim prospects for long-term success. The thoughtful comments left here on the blog as well as the steady stream of RT’ing on Twitter have been terrific. It reminds me how lucky I am to get consistently intelligent and lively conversation in response to what I write. For a blogger, there’s nothing better. (It also makes me glad as heck that I didn’t follow my original instinct; when I finished my first draft of that piece on Monday, I actually decided not to publish it, fearing it was too shapelessly reasoned.)
In fact, I had wanted to jump into the conversation myself earlier but I’m under two deadlines at the moment so life is kind of hectic. Plus, I often like to see comment threads play themselves out without my interference before I engage — I find that the general direction of a conversation evolves more naturally if I hold back from potentially derailing it too early. After following along for a while though, there were a few quick things that came up that I felt I should respond to. So this morning I started adding a comment at the end of the thread but, as it got lengthier and lengthier, I decided to publish it as this blog post instead.
First, my apologies for incorrectly (and unintentionally) implying that the Popular Science app was a part of Adobe and Conde Nast’s recent collaborations. As Matt points out, the magazine is owned by Bonnier and the app runs on the mag+ platform.
Commenters Scott G. Lewis and Anne both mentioned Zinio, another digital delivery platform that many magazines have been using for the past several years that essentially replicates issues as DRM-encrypted PDFs. I find Zinio a little bit quaint, but I can’t argue with how logical the idea is. For an audience that truly wants the magazine, why not give them just that, the way Zinio does? Why expend the enormous time, energy, talent, money and publicity that go into wasteful iPad apps when you can very directly and simply translate your print product into exactly what you say people want?
If publishers really feel it’s critical to satisfy that dwindling market of people who can’t get their hands on the physical magazine but who will settle for a PDF, then Zinio or similar products are a great solution. In fact, that’s what we did at The New York Times in our redesign of T Magazine late last year.
The bulk of Tmagazine.com was a re-imagination of the print edition’s content as a kind of blog — which greatly improved the site’s overall usability, as well as page views and time-spent metrics. But we knew there were users out there who could not get their hands on the printed edition and who really wanted to
So alongside the blog posts and all the video, audio and interactive pieces, we offered them the next closest thing to print: every single page of the magazine just as it appears in the magazine — but in a browsable UI powered by Issuu. It’s been a big hit for that audience; you can see a sample over here, and I think it’s a fine solution. It’s not a game changer, and by itself it would have failed the test of extending the T Magazine franchise online. But for what it was, it did the job very well — and cheaply.
In case you missed it, reader David Sleight added some smart thoughts to the comment thread (at 10:44 pm; sorry, I really should have anchor links for all comments, I know). In response to another reader who insisted that the Adobe method of magazine-to-app translation was a legitimate form of innovation, David wrote:
“…translating print magazines to iPad apps which merely treat them as ‘digital replicas’ (actual industry quote) is actually a rejection of genuine experimentation by publishers, in favor of something seemingly safe and familiar.”
That’s exactly right, in my opinion. David is expanding upon the idea I alluded to in my post: the strategy that these apps are following is a stand-in for true experimentation. True, it gets something into the market that can then be learned from, iterated and evolved. But in truth it’s really just stalling.
The default reaction of most print publishers since the advent of the Internet has almost always been “Let’s make it just like print.” It’s been tried again and again and it never works. So the fact that publishers are trying it yet again on the iPad doesn’t strike me as experimentation at all. There might be a grain of truth when we say that this is “an experimental year” for publishing on the iPad, yes. But that doesn’t mean we also need to repeat the same mistakes that we made when Flash promised that we could make Web sites flip pages like print magazines, or when the Web was still so new that the only model we had to understand it with was print publishing, or when CD-ROMs tried their best to recreate magazines in ‘multimedia’ form. Those lessons have been learned already.