3 magazine apps that deliver
App strategies have become as varied as the print magazines that publishers produce. At the Niche Digital Conference in Chicago this week, three publishers – Bonnier (Popular Science), Premier Media (Premier Guitar) and RTM Productions (PowerBlock) – talked about their evolving efforts to produce tablet editions of their publications.
Here’s a recap:
Built on Bonnier’s Mag+ platform, the digital edition of Popular Science is “very different from a standard PDF replica,” said Mark Janot, editor in chief of PopSci and editorial director of the Bonnier Technology Group. “We don’t carry over a lot of print conventions, such as white space. We feel it distances the user from the content.”
Popular Science, along with Wired, is a poster child for highly designed, highly interactive digital editions. Janot explained that the digital edition is built on two layers – one with text and a second including images. This design enables users to double-tap on an image to expand and interact with it.
(Janot noted that this functionality is available to advertisers as well.)
Despite its high quotient of interactive content – what else would you expect from Popular Science? – Janot says editors and designers take care not to overdo it. “We are wary of foisting video and audio content on a reader unaware. But at the same time, our job as editors is to curate content for our readers. So I’ve become a fan of a user paging through the magazine and discovering an animated infographic.”
From a staffing standpoint, Janot said they are producing the tablet version with the equivalent of half of an additional designer and half of a production person. And Janot says they don’t spend more than $4,000 per issue for tablet-specific content enhancements.
Peter Sprague, CEO of Premier Media Holdings, has big plans for Premier Guitar on mobile devices. “Calling tablet editions ‘magazines’ seems to be a very limiting term,” he said. But with limited resources, Sprague admits they’re not quite where they want to be – yet.
“At this point in development we didn’t want to invest in anything more than shovelware,” he said. “The next phase is to differentiate content and design by platform. We’re starting to do a little of that every week.”
The print version of Premier Guitar costs $24.95 for an annual subscription – but the app (produced by Texterity) is free. The publisher will consider a paid app when Sprague feels they begin to differentiate the content enough to warrant a separate price.
“The packaging has to be entirely different than print centric,” said Sprague. “But I have print-centric editors, so we’re constantly at war,” he joked.
Not many publishers see the benefit of offering a free app version of a paid print product. “Some people expected our free digital content to cannibalize print sales, but we’ve seen the opposite effect,” Sprague said. His proof point: Single copy print sales doubled last year.
Sprague said the company is also considering several paid utility apps, such as guitar-tuning guides or digital songbooks, as well as sponsored utility apps that are free to readers.
“Mobility is a big deal in the music market,” Sprague said, noting that 51% of the Premier Guitar audience owns a smartphone and 18% own a tablet. “We don’t look at it as producing apps – we see it as reaching mobile readers.”
PowerBlock is a digital-only magazine for auto enthusiasts from RTM productions. It’s an extension of the four automotive shows RTM produces for Spike TV.
“We’re a content company, and our idea is to be wherever the people are,” said Matt Hawkins, RTM’s VP of marketing and digital media. “We have no allegiance to any particular [smartphone or tablet] brand.”
RTM decided to launch the app in part after discovering that 53% of its audience has a smartphone or tablet device. “They’re a lot more connected than we were giving them credit for,” he said.
The genesis of the app was also fueled by the high volumes of images and videos the company produces for the TV programs and its website. “We have a lot of high-def images that we can repurpose and lots of video – it made sense for us to do an app,” Hawkins said.
The free app is produced by Mygazines.