Magazine apps: social sharing tool or walled garden?
Social sharing tool or not -- that is the question (for publishers of apps). GigaOm’s Matthew Ingram makes a compelling argument that too many magazine apps for the iPad resemble the sterile CD-ROMs of the 1990s. They are "walled gardens," lacking social sharing tools which foster true "interactivity." Ingram cites Conde Nast’s highly regarded, free, iPad-exclusive Gourmet Live magazine app, contrasting it rather harshly against Hearst’s newly launched Esquire app featuring the October issue.
The digital resurrection of Conde Nast's 69-year-old Gourmet brand, which was temporarily brought low by a consolidation in their food and bridal divisions last year, was put together by Activate, the consulting partnership of Michael Wolf
, the newly-minted publisher of E5, and Anil Dash. "For me, the apps that take up my time on my iPhone or iPad are Foursquare and Words With Friends and Scrabble," Dash blogged about what he wanted to bring to the re-launch. "They've got really interesting social aspects and gameplay, but most importantly, they're fun, and engaging, and keep me more connected with my friends."
The use of social gaming tools here with rewards for navigation is interesting. It is necessary in the case of Gourmet Live to be connected to a Facebook or Twitter account to access its key interactive features. Still, rewarding the consumption -- no pun intended -- of Gourmet Live's content with more content is more appetizer -- pun intended -- than meal.
But why not have real rewards for articles read, like exclusive coupons from sponsors based on the theme of the article? Conde Nast, of course, has been weaning itself from the advertising-based business model. Conde Nast’s distaste in this recession for the ad-based model is understandable. They have been overly dependent: 70 percent of Conde Nast's margins were generated there. Perhaps couponing geared towards young foodies is in the future as Anil Dash has said that Gourmet Live could conceivably make smart use of geolocation -- just not in this first iteration.
Patricio Robles -- via Poynter’s Damon Kiesow -- takes the opposing view of the social sharing tool argument. Robles says selling more downloads of the Esky app is not necessarily dependent upon making it more social. Point well taken. A well-executed, well-priced app doesn't particularly need social sharing tools. And some of the content of the Esquire app is clearly wonderful. Turgenev's little known masterpiece "First Love," for instance, was a wonderful surprise and in keeping with the rich literary history of the magazine. Might Esquire readers be further persuaded to purchase the app with the enticement of new, short stories from up-and-coming writers? There is no shortage of those.
That said, I have a problem with the pricing. The price -- $4.99 per issue -- is simply too much for such an app. The scrollable pages and interactive features and photo captions (developed with Scrollmotion), while pretty, are in effect still bells and whistles compared to even what the Gourmet Live app offers. And Gourmet Live is free.
Which brings us back to -- social sharing tool or not? Why not? We are still early in the day of apps, but in the two examples cited here, Gourmet Live appears to be on the right track in connecting Twitter and Facebook and possibly other social networks (like location-based foursquare?) to its key interactive features, which themselves are still evolving.