Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Syncing Multiple Issues and Bonus Media in Apps

Last week Exact Editions introduced an upgrade to the iOS app platform. The new release (4.1.0) sees two important improvements.

First, publishers can now incorporate 'Bonus Media' in an app on the iPad -- and for the moment, this deeper level of interactivity will only be available through the iPad. The solution we have built enables a magazine to offer its iPad readers, short video clips, sound and additional photo images (eg from a sporting event or a fashion shoot) in a consistent and easily navigated way. The additional content is included in the app, cued with icons in page flow, accessed via the menu at the top of the screen (next to the '?'/Information icon) and once accessed in a wifi zone may be synced to the user's device so that the media can be enjoyed even when not on-line. The first magazine to benefit from these enhancements was SXSWorld, and there are now open examples of this multi-media content available for any user of this free app; simply download the free app and turn to Issue 4 in Volume 4. Here are a few screenshots:

Bonus Media are signposted in the menu bar

The user can flip through a sequence of additional photographs, not included in the printed magazine.

The second significant upgrade in the Exact Editions platform is that syncing of multiple issues is now supported. As many as you like -- or as many as the memory on your iPad permits. Previously, the rule was that the most recent issue in a subscription would be synced to the iPad/iPhone, readers who wanted to access back issues were completely dependent on access via an internet connection. Now a user can sync back issues (or unsync them) by checking/unchecking the the list of back numbers for each title

Syncing multiple issues through the check boxes on the issue list

If we were asked to summarise the Exact Editions view of magazine apps, I guess one could say that our view is that the whole magazine in its digital form should be an app. The whole magazine should be an app and the relevant archive for the magazine should be accessible and readable (of course 'searchable') from within the app. The whole magazine should be there in the application, but when it is there, it is of course fine to add extra interactivity and linkage. And 'extra', or 'bonus' media. Why not? Some magazine publishers on the other hand seem to have taken the view that a magazine app should be constructed and distributed on an issue by issue basis. Although this may sound like a simpler approach and an easier target, we think that starting with the whole magazine in its entirety as a digital resource is easier for both readers and publishers.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Google goes into Culture Commerce

The rumour mill has it that Google will launch a Chrome netbook, cloud-based, computer before Christmas or early in the New Year. When you put this rumour alongside the others coming from the Googleplex you get an interesting picture

  1. Is Google going to buy a big package of movie rights? Is that why it has hired the former Netflix executive George Kynci?
  2. Google is possibly quite close to signing a deal with the major music labels for its cloud-based music-streaming service.
  3. For a couple of years, Google has been apparently on the brink of releasing a digital books service in collaboration with book publishers. Most recently Dan Clancy told us that Google Editions will be launching very soon ("très bientôt")
The rumours about the Chrome netbook suggest that its really all about the web, cloud-based productivity and web browsing, but if its launch is accompanied by, or closely followed by, a Google distribution and e-commerce solution for books, films and music, the market place for publishers and entertainment companies may change very fast. Google will be a formidable competitor if it becomes an information publisher and an e-commerce platform for film, music and books. Competitor primarily for Apple and Amazon, Google may well be seen as more of a 'friend', because more collaborative and more open than either Amazon or Apple, by the big incumbent publishers and media groups. Knowing, as we do, the way Google works (quiet launches, 'beta' services, and something of a scatter gun approach) I think its unlikely that Google will launch a fully fledged, cloud-based, Chrome-machine, with a multi-channel, multi-media dashboard in place in the first quarter of next year. It is surely more likely that this hardware platform and this constellation of media services will each emerge in their own good time. But if the plans come off and Google has these publishing partnerships in good order, it is highly likely that Google will be selling a lot of consumer products next Christmas. And I do not meant via Groupon; a commercial solution that can stream all kinds of media stuff from your locker in the cloud to Android and Chrome platforms, will be a dazzling consumer attraction

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Economist's Economical and Effective iPad App

And having played with it a bit, I would say that it is a very nice production. Take a look at it here.

There are four aspects to the Economist app that I particularly like:

  1. It has been delivered as a complementary (ie free) offering to all existing subscribers. Exact Editions has been helping magazine publishers to make this bridge to current print subscribers for a while, but a lot of industry experts seem to think that this is something very difficult to do, or somehow not allowed by Apple's e-commerce system, or just generally impossible. Since the Economist is now doing this with no trouble at all (the sign up was very easy, and you only need to do it once -- as is the case with Exact Editions' universal subscriptions) perhaps we will now no longer read claims that it is not feasible to do this. There will be followers......
  2. The Economist delivers all its six editions through the same app, and the user can select which 'regional edition' she wishes to receive. That is a very good plan, simple and in a sense generous. But a generosity which costs the publisher nothing (once it is decided, as it ought to be decided, that all the editions are deserving of a digital service).
  3. The Economist app delivers the individual stories clearly and well, with re-sizable type, and pictures and diagrams in place. Achieving this smoothly and with consistently good results is not easy and must have involved planning a fair degree of integration between editorial work-flow and the app delivery framework. Well done. I also recommend the Economist for choosing a deployment for the iPad which, I am fairly sure, can be easily adapted to other digital form factors that are surely coming. I doubt that the design and editorial process involved in producing the app in its variant forms is onerous, on an ongoing basis. So the planning and integration will be a good investment.
  4. I especially like that The Economist does not try to do too much, or to introduce multi-media and fancy additional features at this stage. This is an app for the weekly publication, not for the web site. The RSS feeds do not clutter up the app, though they can still be found on the web service, of course. The app will be ignored by some so-called experts for not being more ambitious and daring as a publishing innovation. But they have chosen the correct path: get the basic magazine up and running and then take it from there. It will not be difficult for them to introduce more interactivity into the framework they have built.
What is there not to like? Since I am very much in favour of the Economist's app these hesitations or questions, are not intended to be dismissive of what they have achieved:

  1. The Economist app is what I would call a good 'ebook' style of digital edition. The format and design quality of the original publication is mostly lost. Page numbers, and paginated format has gone. The print ads have gone (if I want to apply to be Director General of the World Water Council I will need to go to the print edition). The internal cross references are also gone, and that matters. Furthermore, the user no longer has a simple equivalence between the print edition and the digital edition. This dissonance imposes a bigger cognitive overhead than is generally accepted.
  2. There is as yet no search and no archive, one guesses that these features will be added. Perhaps they should really be there already.
  3. The navigation possibilities with the app are not as rich as in many other magazine apps. The hierarchical order of the magazine has been preserved and can be rapidly flipped, but I was looking for a 'scrubber bar', to be found in most magazine apps, or a 'page flow' widget such as is found in Exact Editions apps.
  4. The Economist's ebook style solution works well for the Economist (which is a more text heavy 'magazine' than most). But I doubt that the same process will work for a very heavily illustrated and page-beautiful magazine. The Economist calls itself a 'newspaper' and I feel that its app solution is better suited to a serious newspaper than to the majority of magazines, where considered layout and clever illustration is a key element in the pleasure of the reading experience.
  5. Furthermore the Economist does not have the benefit of being a platform solution. The Economist is a big enough and a good enough magazine to contemplate building its own solution, but many advantages will come from working with a raft of similarly designed offerings. For most magazines that is an important consideration.
  6. Although, I applaud the decision not to launch with many multimedia bells and interactive whistles, the digital magazine is very short of linkage. Linkage to the web and linkage to other information resources that matter to readers. The Economist app will be better, much better, when there is more.
The Economist have produced a good solution for their loyal, influential, and large readership. They have also shown the magazine industry that developing a solution for your existing subscribers is an important first step. They have not yet shown how great an iPad magazine could be, but those steps are in the future and they have made a good start. Rival publishers should take note and take stock.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Apple's Next Announcement: Android Compatibility?

It seems as though the Apple announcement about the availability of Beatles music via iTunes was not such an earth-shaker. Fred Wilson's tweet was the best riposte that I have seen so far ("I've had the Beatles on iTunes since I bought all of their CDs and ripped them back in 2001 #muchadoaboutnothing" tweets Fred).

But here is an announcement that really would surprise the digerati: Just suppose, Apple decides to offer the iTunes app store via Android?

I guess most experts would dismiss this out of hand. Is it not the point of iTunes and the app store that it gives users and potential purchasers a compelling reason to purchase Apple hardware not the devices that come from other manufacturers? Surely Steve Jobs would never want to do this? Wouldn't putting iTunes on Android be a way of endorsing the competing Android standard? Surely Google would never allow that?

But before we dismiss the idea, give it some consideration:

  1. The prospect that Google might ban an iOS4 emulation environment for Android would surely, in and of itself, be enough to encourage Apple to produce one. Google would lose its moral high-ground if it pulled such a trick.
  2. Apple would surely sue anyone who built a 'clean room' iOS4 environment for Android, but that doesn't mean that Apple could not choose to do that directly. Apple has a choice as to how to play this issue of 'standards' and 'fragmentation. It would be sweetly ironic if Apple brought the Apple standards of e-commerce and app regulation to the small Apple-blessed part of the Android spectrum, letting the rest of the Android world hang on to the devils and dangers of unregulated experimentation.
  3. Apple may not want to appear to endorse Android at this stage, but as Android approaches a degree of maturity Apple will be more interested in 'managing', 'stabilising' and 'participating' in the evolution of standards and expectations that are being set by the non-Apple universe. Apple could exert considerable influence in this way if there is a large library of iOS-compatible apps running through Android.
  4. Apple is capable of using the 'embrace to extend' strategy beloved of Bill Gates. Remember how many observers (including many music publishers) were surprised when iTunes for Windows appeared in 2003 and the way in which this step re-inforced Apple's position as the primary avenue for digital music sales.
  5. When Apple's music and media goes to the cloud, then there will be little reason for Apple not to offer its music service through the Android eco-system. If the music and the media properties are positioned as cross-platform, why not make the same choice for the apps environment.
  6. Android manufacturers and designers would love to inherit the wealth of apps available for iOS4. There would be a bargain to be struck if Apple were willing to license its environment to particular manufacturers or network operators. Bargains being struck means that Apple gains leverage and position.
  7. Apple will gain additional software revenues through its 30% tariff on any app sales through the Android environment. Concurrently providing a direct Android solution for its committed developers would be a way of keeping the lead that Apple already has in the developer community. It might postpone the time when Apple's developers give equal or greater weight to the Android platform. As the market for apps matures, the percentage of Apple's profits that is coming from e-commerce will increase and the attractiveness of revenues from an Android-compatible market will increase.
  8. It is unlikely that any Android device manufacturer could produce a device that completely matches the specification of the iPhone, still less the iPad, in every particular. Some apps will not travel outside iOS4. The Ocarina app for example might not seamlessly translate to the best Android phone solutions, what with the differences in microphone positioning and function. But Apple will like that, complete inter-operation across the board, might be too much of a threat.
  9. Apple could decide to run an iOS emulation environment across the Android phone environment, so iPhone apps cross over and iPad apps do not. Keeping iPad apps restricted to the iPad hardware whilst the iPhone apps are allowed out. Again, Apple has choices and can play this game of extension and standardisation in ways that suit Apple and its customers and developers. Google's 'hands off' position on Android begins to look a bit more like a 'hands tied' stance.
  10. That Apple have not done this so far, is absolutely no guarantee that they might not be inclined to do it in the future.
There may be some element of the Android and iOS4 licensing that means that such a direct app cross compatibility cannot happen, (if so I am not sure what this road block could be). But if it is a possible development, then I am sure that Apple and Google will have done a bit of 'what-iffing' to consider the potential outcomes from such a move.

How will we be Reading Magazines in 2020?

We have been informally polling readers of this blog to find out how we think magazines will be read in ten years time (you may still enter the poll here). We offered eleven different options for magazine reading a decade from now. According to those who have completed the magazine poll these are the likeliest options:

  1. On a tablet (something like the iPad)
  2. In print on paper delivered via physical distribution
  3. On an e-ink device (something like the Kindle but with colour)
  4. On a device or medium unlike any of the others in this list
At the bottom of the list
  • From an image projected to a surface by a mobile phone (or something like that)
  • On heads-up interactive goggles
  • On silicon brain inplants
I guess we only put 'silicon brain inplants' in the hope of attracting the science fiction audience, but I am a bit surprised that 'On a device or medium unlike any others in this list' did not climb higher than the number 4 slot it now occupies. At the beginning of this year, Apple's iPad was still an unknown quantity, quite possibly a huge flop in the making; and yet now 9 months later, for many people it looks like the most likely way in which magazines will be read in the next decade. Surely there is a chance that something still better, and quite unheralded, may come along?

Well our sample of respondents does not think so, and this very same sample also thinks that it is very possible that the printed paper magazine will still be up there contesting the number one spot with the iPad or its successor of 2020.

We constructed this poll because we thought it might throw up some data that we should consider at our private (invitation only -- and I am afraid they have now all gone) Roundtable to discuss the current state of digital magazines at the British Library on December 1st. The theme of the Roundtable is: Bringing it all together: iPads, online and print; So we probably guessed right in putting iPads and other Tablets as the first of our themed discussions for the roundtable. These seem to be some of the tablet-related issues that may be addressed by our panelists on the day:

  • Are tablets now defining the format for digital magazines in the future?
  • Is it a problem that Apple makes by far the coolest device.
  • Will there be lots of tablet platforms? Apple, Android et al (this begins to look complicated!)
  • And what about mobile phones? Distinct or v different opportunities?
  • Can magazines sell/distribute digitally direct? Or do they need to go via an iTunes or a platform?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Magazine Publishers and Horse Dentistry

It seems that every other day brings a new bout of moaning about the limitations of the Apple iPad system as a digital magazine platform.

But are these complaints justified, or is it really an indication that magazine publishers are both missing the bus and looking a gift horse in the mouth? The latest piece of mis-guided bleating comes in an otherwise sensible article from Damon Kiesow in Poynter Online. He says:

What publishers and consumers need from Apple is a real digital newsstand, which would allow:
  1. One-stop shopping for multiple publications
  2. The ability to buy a single issue or subscribe
  3. Capability to connect print and tablet subscriptions, including any package discounts
  4. A central location to access purchased or downloaded publications
  5. Sales via iTunes or a publisher's own circulation system, with royalties adjusted appropriately
Damon Kiesow 3 strategies emerge for charging for iPad publications

These sound like reasonable requirements. But the plain fact is that iTunes and the app store pretty much does all that right now. Let us take them one at a time: (1) iTunes is a one stop shop for lots of publications, it is hardly Apple's fault if plenty of magazines have not ventured in there yet. Even so, the iTunes news stand is better stocked with newspapers and magazines than any other digital news stand. And getting stronger. (2) (the ability to buy single issues or subscriptions) as Kiesow acknowledges earlier in the article Apple through the iTunes app store allows publishers to sell single issues or subscriptions (at Exact Editions we enable publishers to sell 30 day subscriptions to their magazines which is not the same as selling single issues; but there are plenty of publishers and platforms selling single issues through iTunes) (3) (connecting print subscribers to apps) but as Kiesow recognises there is no obstacle to a magazine publisher connecting its existing paid subscribers for free to the app which is being sold by Apple in iTunes (he cites the experience of People magazine, but at Exact Editions we are encouraging all magazine publishers to do this: connect your existing subscribers for free through the branded app which you are offering in iTunes. This is completely within the letter and spirit of Apple's rules and guidance). (4) is completely baffling, because iTunes so obviously just is that; iTunes is a central location for e-commerce, for storing magazine issues and for providing users with access to archives. How would or could an Apple kiosk do that better? (5) (a system for 'sharing royalties') is already in place and Apple has the rather marvellous adjustment that a publisher can choose how to play the game, the publisher can either sell via iTunes in which case he will find that Apple have taken a 30% commission from the sale, or he can choose to give the magazine away, or indeed provide free access to subscribers from whom the publisher has charged an annual or monthly subscription (outside the Apple system). Not only can publishers connect customers who they have acquired via the iTunes system to their existing deals and print-based offers and incentives, but they can do that without paying Apple a cent for the business which is happening outside iTunes. Apple is being a lot more 'open' about this than will be some of the competing digital news-stands that are coming along.

All this should be known to the complainers in the magazine industry and I think that the real source of the griping, grumbling and equine mouth inspections is elsewhere. Perhaps these are the real problems:

  1. iTunes is not a complete digital back-end system for magazines. Publishers are used to having a specialist distribution house handle all complications to do with physical distribution and maybe they are hoping that Apple would be able to do this in the digital sphere and look after the magazine publishers special interests in the way that fulfillment houses have done. Once this is formally stated the idea is ludicrous, but some magazine experts talk as though its Apple's job to deliver, in full working order, the digital back-end of their industry. This is perhaps the burden of Kiesow's request that the putative Apple kiosk should 'connect' the print and tablet subscription ('including any packet discounts' -- I like that requirement: consider the extreme complications that could arise from blending infinite varieties of print/digital discount packages the magazine publishers will dream up; that modest requirement will keep Apple's engineers busy for years). But Apple is not in the magazine or newspaper business and it is not their job to build a system which solves the transitional dislocations of those industries.
  2. iTunes does not have an exclusive magazines-only zone. Like the iBooks store. This is true, but it may be a good thing for the magazine industry that Apple does not have a required format and delivery solution for magazines. The jury is still out on the iBooks solution, and perhaps Apple is being very wise in waiting to see how digital magazine delivery evolves. Why should they plump for a possibly half-baked digital standard when we still don't know what the right digital format for magazines is? Certainly Apple has not solved all the problems of digital magazine production, the result is that there is a rather interesting ferment of development and innovation. If Apple had developed a pre-packaged solution (cf Amazon and their so far half-hearted and not very good magazine delivery) we would not be witnessing these exciting experiments within iTunes.
  3. Apple is not being friendly enough to the existing magazine business. There have been a chorus of complaints about Apple not providing sufficient information on app usage to developers, or to magazine publishers who produce apps. The magazine industry is used to having its own tame auditing service (ABC and BPA being two of the biggest industry consortia providing such information), specifically geared to the magazine industry and its advertising customers. Apple has shown no signs of opening up its books to ABC or the BPA and is frankly unlikely to do so. Why should Apple be unmovable in this respect? Primarily because the business of auditing advertisements has moved on, and there is now no conceivable rationale for having an advertising metric which is exclusively tailored to the magazine industry. Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook etc will be the advertising networks that count in the future and they will all be trans-media (web, TV, film, digital publishing, social networking all in a big mix). Since 2005, the boom in digital advertising has shown that measurement and auditing is so closely tied to implementation and operations that it is naive to seek to recreate a magazine-specific analysis or distribution solution. Digital magazines will need advertising but they will need to work with digital solutions and digital metrics which are not narrowly specific to one industry or one media type. It certainly is not in Apple's game-plan or in their interest to gerrymander a magazine specific solution for reporting and measuring usage on magazine apps.
  4. It is hard to sell magazine subscriptions through iTunes. Kiesow correctly points out that Apple enables publishers to sell subscriptions, and there has never been a problem about doing this (we have been doing so at Exact Editions since the iPad launched). In contrast to Android, Apple in iOS 4 and iTunes actually has a rather effective way of providing in-app purchases of subscriptions. The problem for the magazine industry is rather different: iTunes customers are hugely biased towards buying stuff that is at the low end of the iTunes price matrix. It is very hard to sell annual subscriptions to magazines through iTunes at the prices that magazine publishers would like to charge (and perhaps need to charge). This is a real problem but it really is not Apple's fault, and they can hardly blamed for this supposed shortcoming. iTunes works very well for low-priced transactions. But it is hard to see annual magazine subscriptions through iTunes flowing off the digital shelves at prices of £20/$30 and upwards. So it will be interesting to see how Newsweek fares with its experiment of selling 6 months subscriptions through iTunes at $14.99. iTunes apps are pretty 'frictionless' when priced at $0.99 or $1.99. But it is much harder to sell subscriptions at $9.99 or $19.99. Perhaps Newsweek will start a trend, or maybe magazine publishers should stick with the scheme of using iTunes for customer acquisition and then upselling them to an annual subscription purchased via a credit card direct from the publisher (where consumers are happier to spend $9.99 or $29.99, for a publication they really value).
The conclusion that one should draw from all these niggling gripes about Apple is this: publishers do not realise how lucky they are, magazine gurus should stop complaining and use the Apple service for the tasks it performs so well, and get on and sell or freely provide (in the case of existing subscribers) access to the magazines that they can now deliver digitally or in print. When you think about it, it clearly would not be a good idea for the magazine industry if Apple did provide a complete and end-to-end solution for digital magazine distribution. Magazine publishers need Android, and Windows 7 and pure web distribution to preserve their independence and choice. They need alternative channels for magazine distribution not just an iTunes route to market. Magazines, not Apple need to control and manage their own digital distribution, and if Apple were suddenly to produce a comprehensive digital magazine service, this would be dangerously sedative if it stopped innovative publishers from looking to alternative digital distribution routes and technologies.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Adobe's Magazine Solution for the iPad

Here is an informative video podcast from the Adobe evangelist Terry White: "Adobe Digital Publishing to the iPad: A First Look"

It is a 15 minute overview of the solution for building iPad apps that Adobe is building for magazine publishers. As you might expect there are some neat software solutions in the package, especially notable are tools for placing video in a document page, for interactive/panoramic 3D photos and model rotation, and for full integration of a web page in the document. Cool stuff.

But the thing that really struck me with this overview is that Adobe is taking a big, and surely quite a risky bet on the way that we are going to read and interact with digital magazines. Adobe have decided that the information architecture for the digital magazine will be very different from the conventional paginated, linear, sequence of the printed magazine. The Adobe solution is entirely built on the proposition that digital magazines should have a matrix style of layout, with pages arrayed left/right in the horizontal plane, and also up/down in vertical 'stacks'. This concept seems quite natural for a 'story', or a set of photos, or a collection of cartoons, which can be read in the vertical 'drop' whilst the ordered contents of the magazine move along in the horizontal mode. This sounds like a logical way of planning a magazine issue and there is apparently no reason why a digital magazine should not be so arranged. We have seen quite a few early magazine apps already employing this, washing-line, information layout, by no means all of them from Adobe's developers. I am not convinced that users really want to read magazines in this way; but if they do, Adobe will be in a very strong position because they now have a direct set of tools for bridging magazine publishers from the InDesign package with which most high-end magazines are now produced, directly to a file format and an information architecture for the iPad to which Adobe are building an extensive and complementary set of tools.

On the other hand, there are several reasons for thinking that this big bet on the next stage for magazine architecture could be the wrong way for magazines to go digital. Here are some:

  1. Each magazine issue has to be precisely designed for the iPad, perhaps page by page, with adjustments and tweaks. The automatic layout tools in the package cannot guarantee a 100% result. This means more work in the publishing/design stage.
  2. Twice over. The magazine on the iPad should really have two sets of pages adjusted for the different aspect ratios of the landscape and the portrait mode of viewing the device. Terry White suggests in the video that the digital magazine could be designed for presentation in only one orientation, but that really is not a good option for the iPad. Magazine apps, or even ordinary documents, that can only be read in landscape or portrait mode on the iPad feel very lame.
  3. And then the magazine has to be re-engineered again for the iPhone (if that is supported) which has different proportions to the iPad.
  4. Redesigned, or re-tweaked, many times more (it is probably much worse than you think) since magazine publishers will need to review and tweak the magazine layouts again (twice) for as many alternative devices as will require magazine apps with different aspect ratios.
  5. Multi-page, multi-column, layouts work better in the horizontal plane than when read in vertical scroll mode. What do we do about that if the whole of the magazine is being matricised?
  6. This bi-valent, matrix, layout is arguably not a good solution for magazine users, because the arrangement of a digital magazine not only changes in potentially confusing ways as one switches a device between landscape and portrait mode, but it also confuses the reader as one transitions between different devices, or from print to digital. The overhead imposed on a publisher in needing to refine designs for different versions on different screens, is bad enough, but it is outweighed by the cognitive 'overhead' for users who need to relearn how to navigate and understand a magazine which is being presented in different ways on different devices.
  7. Are readers going to be happy with a reading style for magazines which is completely different from that used in reading newspapers or books? Are digital books meant to work as well in matrix mode as magazines? What about newspapers?
  8. Will this matrix layout work efficiently when you have magazine apps, book apps and newspaper apps on the same screen; for there will soon be bigger touch screens? Or when we wish to consult two issues of the one magazine? Matrices hog space in both dimensions.
Adobe need to have an app-building solution for the magazine industry where their software is an essential and highly regarded creative tool, but there are reasons for doubting the generality and flexibility of their current approach. If there are a score or more Android hardware devices in the next year -- three, four, or five of which achieve some level of consumer acceptance -- Adobe's decision to couple the design of a digital magazine so closely to the screen size and the hardware spec. will be sorely tested.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Khoi Vinh's Indigestion and the iPad

Khoi Vinh published, last week, a damning and severe critique of the current state of magazine iPad apps. Here are a couple of extracts:

My opinion about iPad-based magazines is that they run counter to how people use tablets today and, unless something changes, will remain at odds with the way people will use tablets as the medium matures. They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all.....

Take the recent release of the iPad app version of The New Yorker. Please. I downloaded an issue a few weeks ago and greatly enjoyed every single word of every article that I read (whatever the product experience, the journalism remains a notch above). But I hated everything else about it: it took way too long to download, cost me US$4.99 over and above the annual subscription fee that I already pay for the print edition and, as a content experience, was an impediment to my normal content consumption habits. I couldn’t email, blog, tweet or quote from the app, to say nothing of linking away to other sources — for magazine apps like these, the world outside is just a rumor to be denied. (My iPad Magazine Stand Khoi Vinh)

In fact Khoi is pretty gloomy about the prospects for the magazine industry:
The fact of the matter is that the mode of reading that a magazine represents is a mode that people are decreasingly interested in, that is making less and less sense as we forge further into this century, and that makes almost no sense on a tablet. As usual, these publishers require users to dive into environments that only negligibly acknowledge the world outside of their brand, if at all — a problem that’s abetted and exacerbated by the full-screen, single-window posture of all iPad software. (My iPad Magazine Stand Khoi Vinh)
There are some excellent responses to Khoi's depressing account of the magazine industry prospects in the comments which his blog has attracted. The best full-out response that I have seen comes from Mike Turro.

Without a doubt the future of magazines–both as an industry and a publishing framework–is uncertain. However, to write off the reading experience provided by a good magazine as a relic of the print world is extremely shortsighted. When Khoi offhandedly and anecdotally declares “that the mode of reading that a magazine represents is a mode that people are decreasingly interested in” he is assuming (though he does give a slight nod to the contrary) that the current use patterns of the web’s most emphatic users (also iPad’s early adopters) are an indication of the eventual use patterns of the population of tablet users as a whole. Khoi is certainly a smart guy, but it may be a bit early to make that call. (@Khoi Vinh's Beautiful Mistake Mike Turro)
Mike Turro calls Khoi Vinh's mistake, "beautiful". I am not so sure about that -- it could be a blunder, attributable to his indigestion through consuming too many unripe apps. It seems to me that 'magazine designers' are particularly excited and in many cases particularly disappointed by the possibilities of the iPad, because they have been thinking of the iPad as a new medium and a new design challenge for their typographic and layout skills, as though magazine publishers could own or control the device the way they control paper stocks and printed colour choices. But the iPad is not the medium but a digital device. Magazines will grow and change as they work out the potential of digital media, but they start this adventure the way they are. That is nothing to be ashamed or worried about. The excellence and remarkable quality of the iPad is that it is really a very 'neutral' digital enabler and any virtual, digital, media object should be able to thrive in its embrace. We should not be designing magazines (newspapers, books, films) for the iPad but for their audience, an audience that is increasingly digital and which will now have Galaxies and Droids as well as iPhones and iPads, and this means we should now be designing digital resources which can gracefully leap into different devices and across various media platforms. So if there is a reason for sticking to proven formats (pages, paragraphs, layouts, inserts, wrap-arounds, even belly bands and overlays, indices, cartoons, charts and tables) this is not because these formats are inherently digital, they are not, the reason for sticking with them is that the users/readers understand and enjoy this traditional 'grammar' of type. Too many of the magazine apps that we have seen for the iPad have been designed and engineered precisely for the iPad in a way that will make them impossible to deliver for the iPhone or the successful Android tablet which will surely appear in the next 6/9 months. A publisher or designer who crafts their magazine app specifically for the iPad is building in obsolescence and writing in tablets of stone a message that should be digital, transferable and evolving. The challenge which the iPad and other digital manifestations of the magazine will present to the publisher is this: how can we make a magazine that works well in print and in a range virtual manifestation on tablets, games consols and many other digital gadgets that we have not even considered yet? As Khoi Vinh and Mike Turro both recognise, this is very early days for the iPad and for tablet apps.

The requirement that a magazine should be consistent across a variety of print and digital manifestations certainly does not mean that it should be the same in those 'editions'; if, to take a specific and local example, you look at Exact Editions apps you will find that there is stuff that you can do with them on the web that you cannot do with them on the iPad, there is stuff that you can do with them on the iPhone that you cannot do on the iPad and there is plenty that you can do with them on the iPad that you cannot do on the web versions. The various digital forms of a magazine will be different from each other but they should have a common core; and a clever designer will make sure that a 21st Century magazine not only looks good in print, but also in its many digital variants where additional layers of interactivity and sociability will certainly accrue. I have been struck by the insistence with which the readers who subscribe to the magazine we support with apps and digital editions want the app to reflect and to represent the magazine that they know. They expect it to be on the iPad and they do not expect it to be something completely different from the magazine they may have been loyally reading for a decade and more.

Monday, November 01, 2010


Gramophone (The world's authority on classical music since 1923) joined the Exact Editions platform last week. The free trial issue has lots of intriguing articles:

If you have a subscription and are lucky enough to have an iPad, you will want to read it on that device, with the Exactly app from Exact Editions.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Will Magazine Reading Be More Social?

Exact Editions is running a public poll to find out how we think that magazines will be read in ten years time. If you haven't yet voted on the issue, please do so.

The sample voting is still small, but I am not surprised that the leading candidate in this race is:

The tablet (something like the iPad)

This is beating 'print on paper delivered via physical distribution'. A bit lower down the list is the option for genuine 'don't knows': ' a device or medium unlike any of the others in this list '.

While I am not surprised that the iPad (or something like it) is the most favoured choice for our most preferred magazine reading medium for 2020, I would have been very much surprised if you had told me 18 months ago that this tablet-type solution would now seem to be the most promising future vehicle for magazines. The iPad is astonishingly successful, but it is only 7 months old. The way that a magazine app should work on the iPad is still very much up for grabs. The way that users will want to use digital magazines is not a settled issue. There is a lot to be done! There are strategic choices to be made!

Exact Editions is running this poll as travaux preparatoires for a round-table forum that we are hosting for movers and shakers in the magazine/technology space in London, on 1 December. One of the key themes for discussion on that day will be 'iPads and other tablets', but another theme, the fifth and last that we have listed for the round-table is 'the social graph'. We are pondering the relevance of the social graph to the shifting technical base of the magazine industry as it goes digital: Few magazines/newspapers have really tapped the social graph (yet). Are Facebook and Twitter the real new frontier for digital publications? Although the social graph and the social context of digital magazines is not yet the top item on most digital magazine executives 'worry list' I cannot help but wonder whether the issue of magazine format and delivery is intimately bound up with the question of how magazines can be most easily integrated into the social graph. If the tablet, an iPad or its equivalent, becomes the primary way in which we interact with our closest, but absent, friends and our wider web acquaintance, then the magazine publishers who are now gearing their publications for tabletisation or iPad delivery will have made a prescient move.

The iPad is a surprisingly social device, more so than a notebook computer or a mobile phone. I do not think that it is just the novelty element in the iPad that makes me much more willing to pass mine around -- much more willing to pass it around than to pass around my mobile phone. The momentary, or episodic, lendability of the iPad may have something to do with its 'touchability' which is itself of social value in a small group, and magazine publishers will be reassured to know that this 'physical lendability' is very limited. Sharing a magazine subscription via the same iPad is feasible for mother and daughter, or husband and wife, but not really practical amongst a wider group of friends.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How Will We Read Magazines?

We are running an on-line poll on the way that magazines are to be read 10 years from now.

If this is an issue on which you have views, go and cast your vote. Remember we are not asking how magazines will be read next year, or in 2012, but in 2020! These are the choices:

  • In print on paper delivered via physical distribution
  • In print on paper delivered by home printer device
  • On a tablet (something like the iPad)
  • On an e-ink device (something like the Kindle but with colour)
  • On a mobile phone (something like the iPhone/Blackberry)
  • From an image projected to a surface by a mobile phone (or something like that)
  • On a personal computer (the equivalent of today's PC or Notebook)
  • On a TV-type of home entertainment system
  • On silicon brain inplants
  • On heads-up interactive goggles
  • On a device or medium unlike any of the others in this list

Oh yes, there is an incentive for completing the poll: you will be able to see how the votes of others have been cast (totals only -- this is an anonymous poll), and you will be able to come back in and check the results again later. But we will also blog about the result here next week.

One reason we decided to construct this poll: at Exact Editions we are running a round-table discussion for 50/60 leaders and key decision-takers in the magazine business, the round-table to be held at The British Library, on December 1st. The focus of the discussion is very much on the promise and potential from current digital technologies (our theme is "Bringing it all together: iPads, Online and Magazines in print"), and in preparing our themes and thoughts for this event we thought it would be useful to consult the wisdom of crowds on the imponderables and the various sea changes which confront the industry.

Although it is very hard to be right about this kind of issue, it is of fundamental importance to the industry and its decision takers. Which is one reason why the magazine business has shown so much interest in the potential and performance of the iPad as a magazine reading device.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Universal Subscriptions

Exact Editions has always worked to help publishers offer digital editions to existing print subscribers. Our first contract made provision for what we called 'Combined Subscriptions' a route whereby a publisher could add the digital sub for any of his print subscribers. In practice, this never worked too well (uptake was slight in most cases). For quite a few reasons:

  1. Our web service is designed to handle annual subs (ie 12 months) and it was very difficult to build in more flexible alternatives without confusing the customer experience in the e-store. Many consumer magazines rely on quarterly subscriptions that are renewed 'automatically' via direct debits from the customer's bank.
  2. Most consumer magazine publishers (back in the day) felt that they ought to charge a premium for providing print+digital subscriptions. And this has NEVER worked -- basically because consumers do not see why they should be paying a premium for buying the magazine twice .... To the consumer it seems obvious that the subscription is for 'one thing', the magazine in two different forms, no way would a rational agent pay twice for the same thing. To the publisher it seems obvious that the 'consumer' ought to be paying more for getting a better service. I do not know who is right, morally, in this dispute. In practice, however, the consumer is right. The consumer is always right, and purchasers will not pay for what we used to call 'combined subscriptions'.
  3. We used to call them that, but we now call them 'universal subscriptions'. This is a term that we picked up yesterday from Colin Crawford. And 'universal' is clearly a better term, because 'combined subscriptions' sounds ugly and complicated. 'Universal subscription' connotes a simpler, a more open-ended and a more comprehensive solution to which existing print subscribers, the lifeblood of most magazines, deserve full access. But the Exact Editions service is more universal than 'combined' because it allows a publisher to offer the print subscribers, access through the web, through the iPhone, and the iPad. One might expect also to add Android access to that range of universal access.
  4. The 'universal subscription' proposition is clearly better for the consumer than the prospect of paying extra for access to a digital or an iPad edition, but it is really much better also for the publisher, because the publisher or his distribution arm maintains control of the subscriber list. We can only guarantee to provide publishers with a reliable universal service if the Exact Editions platform can verify subscription status in real time. The big consumer publishers who have been nagging Apple with the demand that they have access to customer data have been pushing at the wrong door. Much better to retain control of the customer data on their own side, and then enable suitably qualified users of Apple iOS devices (ie existing subscribers) to access the accounts which are maintained at the publisher end. Some shrewd newspaper publishers are already using this approach (WSJ, Financial Times).
There is one odd thing about the evolution of the Exact Editions service towards supporting publishers with the provision of 'universal subscriptions': it was the arrival of the iPad which made this all seem like the right way to go. The advent of iPad apps and the need to provide existing subscribers with access to iPad apps for their own magazine subscriptions has been the catalyst which is encouraging many publishers also to provide access to web-based digital magazines. The iPad is in some ways a disruptive and innovative move towards a new idea of the digital magazine, but its introduction has helped publishers and consumers to realise that there is value in the simple proposition of a digital edition of the existing print publication.

Nicholas Negroponte: Books will be Gone by 2015

Nicholas Negroponte, interviewed on CNN, makes the bold claim that (physical) books will be gone by 2015. I am supposing that he means more precisely that at some point in the near future, books will be more read and browsed as digital resources than as print on paper objects. To sharpen up the prediction, in which year will we see the switch over point, when more books are read on a digital medium than in Gutenberg-style print on paper? Will the big switch-over from physical books to digital books take place in:

2014 Negroponte is being cautious
2015 Negroponte is spot on
2022 Hard to see this far out
Later Negroponte is talking through his hat!

To take part in this poll go here (Condorcet Internet Voting Service). Results and some comments will be posted on this blog at a later date.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

SXSWorld Magazine as a Free App

SXSW World is the second magazine to use the Exact Editions iPhone/iPad app platform for free distribution. Dazed & Confused was the first.

SXSW World, as you have probably guessed, is the magazine from the organizers of the wildly successful music/film/technology/culture fest held each spring in San Antonio, Texas. With an iPad or an iPhone you can now read this quarterly magazine for free. In this blog we are going to use it to pin-point the basic controls that are to be found on all the Exact Editions apps, but if you have an iPad we strongly recommend that you go and pick the app up and play with it yourself. Try all the orientations, all five free issues, and all the functions on the app's toolbars. Any written or verbal explanation is a poor substitute for the experience of driving the app yourself. But, as second best, we provide some screenshots with explanation:

The Front Cover. Note each of the page numbers on the cover have a green spot, and a click on the highlighted number takes the reader straight to the referenced page. Note also the tool bars at the top and bottom of the window. These tool bars (which disappear after a few moments, but can be recalled by touching the screen) carry the main navigation controls. The Exact Editions apps are designed to give all available space to page images of the magazines and books carried, but the user will soon find out that all the software controls for the app are readily available in the unobtrusive tool bars. Starting at the bottom left:

This triple-decker sandwich icon, is in fact a table of contents icon, it takes the reader to the main table of contents in the magazine (or book), as here:

Again, we draw attention to the interactive links highlighted in green on the digital table of contents page (zip codes, email addresses, urls, as well as page numbers are highlighted). The iPhone, since it is a phone, will also present the phone numbers as highlighted for click-to-call. The grouping of three icons at the middle of the tool bar at the bottom of the window are for moving through pages.

Naturally the arrows are for moving right or left, and the left arrow is 'greyed out' in this snap because we are at the front cover of the magazine. Sorry there is no way that you can go left here! The open book, or concertina, icon in the middle is perhaps the most powerful of the navigational tools in the set we offer. It opens up a quick browse view of the magazine, which we call 'PageFlow', which is in some ways similar to the iTunes 'Coverflow', but rather more 'page-y', since it shows pages in recto and verso views as you move through the publication (naturally, by sliding your finger over the stream of pages).

PageFlow is so blisteringly fast on the iPad that this soon becomes a very valuable way of controlling and navigating the magazine as a virtual object. The slider bar with its bead (to be picked up and slid along the bar) is streaming through the same underlying PageFlow, but even more quickly, and this is especially useful for really large volumes.

The thumbnails used for PageFlow are small, but with an illustrated magazine they contain sufficient information to be highly useful, especially for finding again pages that you may already have browsed.When you have slid to the right part of the magazine, two pages will be open in the 'valley' of the page images. You tap the left hand page, to go to the left hand of the opening, tapping on the right hand page takes you to the other one. If your sliding navigation has 'overshot' the mark you can touch any of the other visible pages in the sequence to go direct to that page. Seven pages on each side of the opening are immediately available. As it happens we want this page:

This image can be expanded (spreading fingers) to a higher resolution:

I am not sure that we need to see Matthew Vaughn in higher resolution than that!

The last icon on the bottom tool bar is to alternate between double page and single page views.

Which takes you to the double page spread:

We have only covered the controls that are available from the bottom tool-bar. Next time we shall cover the set of controls that come at the top of the page.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The iPad is Magical but it is not a Mystery

Dan Bricklin has an excellent blog post about the extraordinary but hard-to-define magic of the iPad. It is one of those rare blog postings that one would like to offer to every one who thinks about the way apps are working on the iPad and what the iPad can do for publishers and readers. Here is a chunk of Bricklin-wisdom:

The way I see it, what makes the iPad magical is that with it we are the magician. The iPad is our own specially marked desk of cards. We now have power to easily and confidently control things that we previously did not. It is a very empowering tool.

With the iPad, we are the masterful magician, not the audience watching in awe.

Why is this so? Isn't the iPad just a big iPod touch?

As I pointed out in my first iPad essay, the iPad gives us more screen space than a pocket device like an iPhone to expose control points and to make the operation of those controls clear and easily accessible with fingers. The iPhone-size screens have room for mainly one major UI-control cluster plus a small toolbar or two -- when the keyboard is up there isn't room for almost anything other than a small view into what you are entering with little context. The iPad does not have such severe limitations, having room for many controls and explanatory information. You can sit back in your seat (like Steve Jobs at the announcement) and comfortably control the device, unlike an iPhone where you pull it to your face and squint to see the controls (especially if you are over 40 like I am).

The use of touch and the application of the capabilities of the graphics processor to give the illusion of smooth flowing, directly manipulated operations enhances the feeling of control. The larger screen in a still-portable flat form factor makes it comfortable for multiple individuals to watch as any one of them controls changes -- public magic, not private exploration. The wireless connectivity quickly brings requested data in on demand. The large screen has enough room to give you context and depth of information from that data. Is the Apple iPad really "magical"?

This is helpful and enlightening because much of the magic in the iPad is a result of its simplicity and the way in which its form factor (mid-size, touchability and screen resolution) encourage a direct and human relationship between the object as instrument or display, and the reading or viewing subject as mover and navigator. The success and the magic of the iPad is both subtle and simple, but it is not a mystery, because the way it works is very simple but with a high degree of user control and involvement. Bricklin goes on to note that the iBooks app is only 'so so' in the magic stakes.

Likewise, I've found some other reading applications, like magazines, that look really nice, and seem to give you control, but that fail to deliver enough when you try reading and perusing the publication -- you feel hampered and long for bound paper that you can skim through and with which you can easily flip back and forth with the right feel. As they say, "God is in the details" -- details of implementation are important and can distinguish the winners from the losers.

To me, a computer is a tool. You use tools to get things done. In the case of the iPad, you can use it to read, to write, to watch, to search, to communicate, to play, and more. The challenge in app design is to give the user a feeling of appropriate and comfortable control.
Bricklin does not say this, but I think that many of the newly re-designed magazine apps have been making a grave mistake by supposing that users (or shall we call them 'readers') want something very different from the print magazine that they already know. Most subscribers and readers like the magazine that they subscribe to or read because it is the way it is. For a loyal reader of The Spectator, or The Wire, the digital edition of the magazine, whether on the iPad or on Android, or the web, has to be recognizably the magazine to which the customer is a loyal subscriber. Of course things will change, and they should change, when the magazine becomes digital. But breaking the mould, and starting again, is a mistake because offering readers a new 'matrix' organisation for the magazine framework that they already know is really taking control away from the reader. We know the way a magazine works and we understand that it can be quickly flipped through with sideways skimming. Asking or expecting the reader to navigate with new radically new conventions is likely to puzzle and distract. Similar thoughts apply to multi-media. It is great, indeed magical, that magazines can now incorporate sound and video in their digital manifestations. But magazines are not TV programmes or chat shows. After a bout of early enthusiasm and exuberance, I suspect that magazine publishers and editors are learning that video and hypermedia devices should be used sparingly and subtly in iPad editions. As Dan Bricklin puts it "The challenge in app design is to give the user a feeling of appropriate and comfortable control." You don't do that by ignoring all the subtleties and 'affordances' in the wonderful print objects which are the starting point for creating magical, digital, magazine apps.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Do you Design for the Device or for a Virtual Page?

We are hearing reports of what may be the first significant competitor for Apple's iPad: the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Here are some comparative notes from Tim Bray (who is likely to be pre-disposed for an Android tablet and against Apple's iPad), and here is a brief overview of a Tab being put through its paces at a Trade Show by Noah from PhoneDog.

I do not know whether the Galaxy Tab is good enough to provide significant competition to the iPad, but the signs are that there will soon be a 'good enough' Android competitor for the iPad. One interesting point: it looks as though the seven inch form factor may be a significant point in favour of the Tab. Plenty of people find the iPad a bit too hefty, a bit too big. This is an area where Apple will face competition, choosing a different form factor (size and aspect ratios) is a good way of differentiating a rival product. There will be plenty of different form factors: 5", 7", 9", 11" etc.... From what we know of hardware markets and mobile opportunities such differentiation is inevitable.

What message should this be carrying to magazine and book publishers? The obvious message is simple, physical and ergonomic: your consumers will next year be carrying and unpacking devices with very different form factors and screen sizes. If you want your product/service to be readable and useful you absolutely have to factor this in to the information architecture of your magazine, or book. To redesign your magazine for each and every new form factor..... that way lies madness.

As luck would have it, I have this weekend been playing with another creditable 'home-produced' magazine app for the iPad: Esquire's new app. The result is a pretty decent magazine-like experience on the iPad with a degree of interactivity and playfulness. But it is very much of a one-off solution. It will be interesting to see whether Esquire persists in offering such an issue by issue app; an implementation which has a substantial overhead in terms of design and creative input, over and above the production and design of the print magazine. Furthermore the designers have so clearly tied their app to the iPad platform that they would need to engage in comparable investments to deliver interactive versions for the 5", 7", 11", and 12.5" platforms that will be hitting the market next year. The Esquire app, although it is designed for the iPad paradoxically shies away from even this target by being implemented purely for the portrait mode of presentation. The app doesnt swing when you swivel! To most iPad users that is going to feel very wrong.

So here is a number one rule for magazine designers: when you are planning digital implementations think about virtual pages, not about actual pages or specific aspect ratios. That way you have a chance that your precious investment in an iPad app will be adaptable to the next screen size that emerges in the Apple range, never mind Samsung, HP-Palm, or Dell. And if Samsung have hit on a good form factor, there will probably be a new format from Apple soon!

Friday, October 01, 2010

The New Yorker App: Fabulous but Flawed

One of the best magazines of all time and the acme of American style, The New Yorker, this week they launched an iPad app, and it is in some respects a brilliant effort. There are some very strong aspects:

  1. A sensational front cover by David Hockney, painted on the iPad with Brushes and with a second interactive page where you can see the way he painted it (brush strokes re-played). One might say that this is a very simple idea and a very straightforward implementation. But it is nevertheless brilliant. This will be copied many times by iPad magazine covers and digital magazine art; but perhaps never bettered.
  2. There is a funny commercial for their new app by Jason Schwartzman (directed by Roman Coppola) and you can see Jason taking a shower with his iPad here.
  3. The visuals in the app are mostly fabulous (we have a bevy of design quibbles, but this is very much a first effort and the designers have taken some risks) and the quality of much of the design of the magazine comes through brilliantly.
  4. Some of the ads are astonishingly strong, especially the small ads with links -- for example try the Swan Galleries ad with its links through to catalogues for current auctions which can all be viewed with great detail from within the app. This placement gives the right kind of information-dense ad incredible 'focus' and visibility.
  5. The cartoons are, as is to be expected, brilliant and can be viewed in place, scattered through the magazine, or together in a cartoon gallery.
We should aplaud a great first effort, and I continue to enjoy the magazine days after downloading it. The creative talent associated with The New Yorker is second to none. However, there are a few 'buts' which we notice in a spirit of friendly and constructive criticism.

First, the information design of the Condé Nast apps inherits a matrix-framework built for them by Adobe. The Wired apps were the first to show it, and it seems as though this duplicated portrait/landscape rendering of a magazine layout could become a standard Adobe packaging technique. The app produced in this way is rather 'portly' (though much smaller than the Wired apps) and it seems that The New Yorker has some reservations about the approach. We saw the Deputy Editor, Pam McCarthy, noting for All Things Digital, that the Adobe method of scrolling a long story doesn't work, “It’s pretty clear that when you have a 10,000-word story, smooth scrolling [in the vertical] is not a good option,” she says. For me, the Adobe technique of hanging each story as though they were page proofs draped on a 'washing line' through which users can navigate the magazine as a matrix, is not a good option either. Furthermore I am sure that Adobe will have to change their model of what a digital magazine is, because representing and designing a magazine in two different orientations creates more work for designers and, much worse, it creates unnecessary work for digital readers who have to learn about two slightly different digital representations of the magazine both variant in important respects from the magazine as it has been loved and learned in print. Finally, in precisely targeting the screen size and functionality of the iPad (the app is not at all available for the iPhone) Adobe seem to have created an endless design treadmill for their magazine customers who may have to produce subtly different solutions for each tablet platform. The only practical way to solve this looming problem (there will soon be many tablet formats and Android will not help by having variant app standards) is to treat the print magazine as a virtual book (if you insist a 'page turning' object) and then build interactivity on top of the virtual book. In that way a scaleable and generative solution can be delivered for a large range of reader devices. You will find more precise questions about the design solutions chosen for the app at MagCulture, but this fundamental issue of order, predictability and information architecture is the basic flaw in the Adobe method.

The second reservation, is that Condé Nast seem to be stuck in a publisher stand-off with Apple their necessary distribution partner for the iPad (no one can get an app on to the iPad without Apple approval!). Condé Nast President Bob Sauerberg as quoted by the Wall Street Journal:

"It is important to the New Yorker that we have offerings that allow long-term relationships with the consumers. Obviously, we don't have that in place for the moment with Apple. We are very keen to do that." WSJ, September 26
The astonishing thing about this comment is that Condé Nast already has a broad and a deep connection with its long-term consumers (the last time I looked it had just over 1 million of them), and it could easily enable them to access the iPad app if it adopted the strategy which the Wall Street Journal itself adopts of giving free iPad access to print and existing digital subscribers. There is no need to ask Apple's permission to do this. If Conde Nast does not switch on its loyal print subscribers -- which is perfectly within the constraints of the iTunes/Apple proposition -- it is very rich to complain about Apple not allowing the company to connect with its readers. When Sauerberg was promoted he noted
"We want our readers to engage with our brands in a variety of ways, and we feel our success will be based on being able to provide our content seamlessly across every appropriate platform that exists now and in the future. We want to take that engagement and continue to try to increase it and revalue the consumer proposition. We want to do that with our magazines and our websites and our digital applications." (Folio Magazine -- Transcending Print Q&A with Bob Sauerberg)
Fine words and correct. But where is the follow through? The iPad could be a seamless bridge to the consumer's existing subscription (well a small hump of a bridge, almost, almost, seamless). The iPad actually gives Condé Nast a very straightforward way of serving existing print subscribers and were Condé Nast to do this, they would immediately have a much stronger digital connection with many of their readers and one which in the long and the short-term will serve them much better than a relationship mediated and controlled by Apple. To argue that Apple is not letting you connect to your subscribers when you do not connect the subscribers that you already have, and for which Apple will make no charge, is simply absurd.

Apple's Segmentation and Service Integration

There is a brilliant and highly perceptive article on Apple's strategy by Mark Sigal over at O'Reilly Radar. Read it all, but here is an excerpt:

In the real world of building products and attacking market opportunities, market segmentation is the process of defining and sub-dividing the aggregate, homogeneous market into addressable, targeted needs and aspirations buckets. Buckets that are in turn, thresholded by demographic, psychographic and/or budgetary constraints.

Market segmentation strategy enables a company to drive complete, unified product solutions that are harmonious with messaging, customer outreach, and channel strategies for selling and supporting customers.

In this regard, Apple's product strategy is a study in market segmentation. Versus merely trying to stuff a product, burrito-style, with as many different features as possible, they target specific user experiences, and build the product around that accordingly. Apple's segmentation strategy, and the folly of conventional wisdom

Mark points out that Apple has defined and addressed these market segments (or buckets) by delivering a range of devices which have differing but powerfully complementary and mutually attractive portability, wearability, pocketability modalities. Apple has brilliantly seen that in the age of mobile computing it is highly desirable to offer your users different styles and weights in which devices may be donned, doffed, cuddled, clutched or tethered; best not to have them 'lugged' or 'humped'. The way the devices look and the way they feel matters more if you are carrying them around. Their touchability, weight, balance, their reflectivity and colour -- all these are important with tools which are becoming almost a part of our wardrobe (or at least will often be taken out of our handbag). Style becomes an aspect of function when the objects are to be worn and carried. He also provides us with a helpful diagram of the range:


Mark Sigal goes on to point out that this segmentation is complemented by highly effective integration at the level of the OS (to a degree -- making us parenthetically wonder when will iOS 4 move out towards the desktop and down towards the Nano?) and most importantly, and more universally, through the e-commerce platform iTunes and the media layer. The media layer is universal; we should reflect on the defensive strength that gives the Apple product skeleton. We should reflect on the accretive potential that this breadth of cultural objects gives to the device constellation. Because there are many, many more, choices at the media level it is essential for the Apple eco-system that the individual choices of consumers are shared within their individual device grouping. The media layer is where the consumers individual choice reigns supreme and it is in this sense the most 'open', the most consumer-committing, and potentially one of the most profitable aspects of the differentiation strategy.
Further, when you see how Apple has used its vertical integration of the iPod media player and the iTunes marketplace across all of its devices to create a billing relationship with 160 million consumers vis-à-vis simplified discovery, purchase and distribution, it provides a window into how they've facilitated a market segmentation approach that is simultaneously harmonious and discrete. Apple's segmentation strategy, and the folly of conventional wisdom
Harmony is key, the range and mutually supporting quality of the Apple product segmentation is making it very difficult for competitors to mount an effective challenge to the iPad, and to an extent to the iPhone. And we notice that hardly anybody is trying to mount a competitive challenge to the iPod Touch which may be the most effective, defensive/aggressive, unit in the Apple line-up.

Life is difficult for the consumer electronics and device manufactures who compete with Apple, but following Mark Sigal's analysis what are the implications for media owners?

  1. The first point to understand is that Apple's strategy is broadly media friendly. Especially to media that wish to establish subscription services to Apple's large iTunes audience. The device manufacturer and the mobile network operator may be in direct competition with Apple, but the media producer should aim at a symbiotic relationship with the leading mobile media platform.
  2. Furthermore the Apple strategy is working and it needs to be followed. But notice that this does not mean that a media owner should aim at segmentation at the service level. Quite the opposite. Books, films, magazines, newspapers, TV shows should be sold as all-in inclusive services wherever possible. The media should flow between all the device options that confront the consumer and wherever a publisher can establish a direct relationship with a consumer, that relationship (a subscription) should be transferable to any other device or access solution that the consumer is wearing/lugging. Segmentation at the device level should be married to integration at the service layer.
  3. Apple is building its services on top of web solutions. Apple's universal media layer is driven by web services, as (See John Gruber on Apple and the Open Web where he points out that Apple is heavily invested in HTTP but not much in HTML). Follow that model. The web is fundamental to all media distribution, and it is at the level of web distribution that the media owner can hope to provide a fluid service for users who may be part in and part out of the iOS device network.
  4. There will be scores of new device options in the next two years. Apple's present lead in media delivery will be steadily encroached. Avoid the mistake of building solutions for devices (there will be 5", 7", 9", 11" and more screen sizes on tablets next year). Respect the integrity of your product and your service and deliver the same solution everywhere, as far as possible. The best solution may not be fully deliverable on some platforms, but make sure that the core offering is available there (even if some of the bells and whistles are missing).
  5. Consider, at every step in your relationship with Apple, that the consumer is king. Apple will not lightly grant access to consumer information and private data that the Apple devices may obtain, or that ill-mannered apps might obtain without the consent of users. Apple will not and should not pass on this private data and do not expect them to do so.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An iKiosk for iTunes?

There has been a spate of news stories in the last few days about Apple preparing (or discussing) a central kiosk for newspapers and magazines. See Bloomberg and the WSJ. This is mostly speculation, but it may be well-informed. It is surprising that Apple have not already launched a common framework for delivering newspapers and magazines via subscription. Many observers assumed that it would be there when the iPad was launched, in much the same way that the iBooks app is there. In much the same way that iTunes is there so that users can buy music.

One reason that we havent already seen an iKiosk is that it is a challenging proposition to build such a service, and perhaps even more challenging to win the agreement of the major publishers who need to be signed up for it. In an excellent post M C Siegler at TechCrunch summarizes the obstacles. He points to four areas of difficulty:

  1. Publishers do not want to surrender control of their subscriber lists and the associated or derivable data on individual use. Apple does not want to allow publishers to 'grab' intrusive information from users of Apple devices.
  2. A thirty percent Apple-tax on subscriptions sold through iTunes is too big a chunk for the publishers to surrender.
  3. Timely publication (especially of newspapers) is a challenge.
  4. Handling full publications (and their archives) is a problem -- remember the first Wired App was over half a GigaByte.
These issues are in subtle ways inter-related, and I suspect that lurking behind them are two bigger challenges that Apple really cannot solve for the newspaper/magazine industry. The first, and the major challenge, is that the old prevailing model of newspapers and magazines being largely paid for by advertising is fundamentally broken. It is not coming back. That model can not be resuscitated (at least in the transition or medium term) by a digital solution. But the publishers' budgets and business models are so wedded to advertising revenues that they will not be able to embrace solutions which appear to abandon or de-emphasize it. Publishers will insist on securing more data on their subscription customers, but they will not be able to do very much with it. The digital advertising networks are not going to be publisher mediated or publisher controlled. The second major challenge, is that it still is not obvious or certain what the 'file format' for these digital publications is or should be. There is a radical unclarity about what it is that is going to be digitised.

Take the issue of 'timely delivery'. Magazines and newspapers that are fed to an iKiosk have to appear in their digital format a few hours after they have been released in print. Or, better, they have to appear in their digital format before they appear in print. The book publishers and Apple have weeks to play with in transforming files from a printed book into iBooks. But an iKiosk must be much faster. If digital newspapers and magazines are to appear reliably and pretty much instantly on the iPad/iPhone they need to be processed automatically from a content management system to an app service. How can this be done, without congestion and additional work in over-stretched design and editorial offices? How can this be done automatically by Apple? Apple can not afford to reach back into the editorial and content management systems of the publishers. This requirement raises in an acute form the question of what a digital magazine/newspaper really is. Is a digital periodical something like a web site or an RSS feed, something elastic and flowing which can be updated in real-time and adjusted from moment to moment through the period of live publication? Or is the starting point for a digital periodical the fact that it is a series of determinate issues, each of which need to be automatically transformed from something like a PDF file into something like a set of virtual pages? Are we talking feeds or pages? Or both?

One last point. These apparently well-informed (because repeated) rumours about an Apple News Stand do not tell us whether the service will be for iPad and iPhone or for iPad only. If Apple's new news service is aimed solely at the iPad, I think we can expect a very adventurous and cool solution, but in being tied to the iPad it will raise even more challenges for publishers who do not want to be platform-specific. If, on the other hand, Apple backs a much looser format comparable to the ePub solution used for iBooks, then we should be able to use and read newspaper on the iPhone with comfort.