Digital magazine vendors offer different perspectives on iPad apps
Just as media companies are kicking the proverbial tires of Apple’s new iPad to gauge its potential as a publishing channel, so are the vendors that provide technology and services for creating and selling digital publications. The initial approaches of three vendors – Zinio, Texterity and NxtBook Media – reflect their different philosophies about digital reading devices.
Here’s a quick rundown:
Zinio released a free iPad app last Friday that provides a gateway to its existing library of digital publications, which are accessed through proprietary reader technology. The iPad app – basically an extension of Zinio’s iPhone version – provides access to the current issues of more than 2,400 magazine titles, six of which have been optimized to date for the iPad: Car and Driver, Macworld, National Geographic, Spin, Sporting News Today and VIVmag.
The app will let users explore content from some of the titles in Zinio’s library and order subscriptions through the Zinio store. Zinio’s primary value proposition for its iPad app is cross-platform simplicity: Because Zinio’s apps access the same back-end library used by its PC-based reader, its publishing customers can offer “pay once, read anywhere” models that allow subscribers to access a digital edition they’ve purchased from an iPad, iPhone or PC.
To take advantage of the more immersive platform the iPad provides, Zinio is developing new design modules for publishers that want to embed video, audio, slide shows and other interactive elements. “Those modules will continue to grow over the course of the next few months,” says Rich Maggiotto, CEO of Zinio.
Zinio’s pricing and fulfillment models don’t change – since its publishing clients aren’t doing their own apps, they can continue to offer single-issue or annual subscriptions through the Zinio newsstand (Zinio takes a cut of all digital edition sales). Since the subs aren’t sold through iTunes, publishers also don’t have to worry about prying subscriber information out of Apple.
Maggiotto believes the iPad offers an opportunity for publishers to take a fresh approach to creating digital versions of their magazines. "The digital edition has always been an afterthought of the print edition,” he says. “This is a distribution channel that forces you to think about designing for the medium.”
Texterity, which produces digital editions of approximately 750 consumer and trade magazines (1,000 if you include association and other niche publications), including Premier Guitar and Fast Company, believes native apps are a better approach for both the iPhone and the iPad. Native apps offer the best way to take advantage of the immersive experience those devices offer, according to Texterity President Martin Hensel.
Texterity’s approach is to create “white-label” apps that feature the publication’s brand, not Texterity’s. It has released two such apps for the iPhone – Premier Guitar and the just-launched CabinetMaker – with several others in the works. It plans to submit its first native iPad versions for approval in May.
Hensel offered some impressive metrics for the Premier Guitar iPhone app to support his point about how these devices improve user engagement with a magazine:
- iPhone users average 5 sessions (repeat visits) with each digital edition, compared with 1.2 sessions for a typical B2B digital edition accessed through the Web (and 2 sessions for a typical B2B website)
- The average session length for iPhone users is 21 minutes, vs. 6 minutes for a B2B Web edition and 4 minutes for a B2B website
- This translates into monthly engagement with the digital edition of more than 100 minutes per month for iPhone users – more than 14 times that of users who access a B2B digital edition through a website.
Hensel expects these engagement metrics to be even better on the iPad because “the ergonomic experience is better – the navigational improvements are more empowering to the user.” For example, the ability to swipe across a series of covers, or navigate text content in multiple ways, or tap the screen to access all navigational metaphors all improve the user experience.
Texterity charges $995 per issue for converting a publication into an iPhone/iPad app. Publishers set their own pricing for the app and receive the 70% revenue cut Apple provides from the iTunes store, plus whatever additional advertising revenue they generate through the digital editions. Hensel says Texterity is developing an in-app subscription process, due this summer, that will allow publishers to collect subscriber information.
While much of the talk around digital publications on the iPad has centered on video, Hensel cautions publishers not to overdo gee-whiz technology on the new device.
“Some are trying to make a statement with how cool they are with their wonderful iPad designs,” he says. “The reading experience will become more of a multimedia experience over time, but when the dust settles we’ll learn that too much rich media exhausts the reader. You have to be selective in how you use it.”
Ultimately, he adds, the approach to the iPad must be more pragmatic than artistic: “Magazines should be looking at tablets as something that need to generate revenue, not as works of art.”
NxtBook Media, which creates digital editions for about 600 magazine publishers, believes that magazine publishers – B2B publishers in particular – may be better off providing Web-based access to digital editions instead of spending resources on developing iPad or iPhone apps.
NxtBook’s publishing clients skew heavily toward B2B, with titles such as American Cinematographer, Embedded Systems Design, and Oil Driller. For the majority of those publishers, the current method of accessing digital editions – by emailing a link back to a Web-based version – has proven more than sufficient.
“We work with a lot of B2B publishers that have done a great job of finding their audience,” says Marcus Grimm, NxtBook’s marketing director. “So the iPad doesn’t necessarily mean additional readers for them.
“If you really believe there’s unfound audience out there, it may make sense to invest more in developing an app,” he adds. “But you want to be careful about extra development costs if you’ve already captured that audience.”
Those users, he points out, can still access digital editions on the Web using the Safari browser in their iPhone or iPad. NxtBook’s technology identifies the device someone is using to access a digital edition and serves up the proper version – the full digital edition, including any Flash-based content, for PC users; a non-Flash version for iPhone users; or a text-based version for Blackberry users.
NxtBook’s services are priced per issue – taking into account such factors as issue length, DRM support and inclusion of rich media. Average pricing runs around $1,000 per issue, which includes the technology along with training and support.
Grimm says NxtBook does plan to develop native iPhone and iPad apps, but the company wants to impress upon publishers the need to build a strong business case for doing so – not just because of the hype.
“I don’t want publishers saying ‘you’re charging me 40% more to develop an app, but only 1% of my readers are going there’,” he says. “They need to look at where their customers are going. If your readers are all carrying Blackberries, then why worry about an iPhone app?”