It's hard to believe it's been less than a year since the iPad launched, considering how publishers have hustled to build out a mobile strategy and launch their magazine apps. But it's still only the beginning, as David Carey, president of Hearst Magazines, reminded attendees at last week's Bloomberg Media Summit. “Keep in mind that you might have things older in your refrigerator than this entire business,” he said.
Chris Kevorkian, executive vice president of digital for the Association for Magazine Media (MPA), confirmed Carey's point when introducing a panel at Wednesday's MPA Digital: E-Reading conference. Kevorkian presented a jar of cocktail olives he found in his refrigerator that were, indeed, older than the iPad.
Magazine industry execs had a lot to share about what they've learned and produced while those olives were sitting in Kevorkian's fridge. Here are a few of those observations about what's working and not working for magazines launching apps.
Curation in mobile
D.W. Pine, design director at Time
, noted that just because you can publish a lot more content in the iPad edition of a magazine doesn't mean you should. “Our main challenge was maintaining the storytelling of Time magazine,” he said. “Just because we can give you 10,000 photographs, it's still Time magazine's mission to curate
this for you.”
Gael Towey, chief creative and editorial director of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc.
, said the excitement and opportunity of the iPad can cause a magazine to overdo it. For instance, Martha Stewart Living put 27 videos in the March issue on the iPad ― which Towey admits was a bit much. “We really have to calm down here,” she realizes.
Digital replica or not?
Many publishers are learning that just recreating a print brand for mobile isn't enough. Macworld
is available as a digital replica
via Zinio, but Mac Publishing also offers an iPad app that differs from both the print and Web content, said Jason Snell, VP and editorial director. “Digital replicas are a little like televising stage presentations in the old days of television,” he said. Macworld's Daily Reader app
is fed by the Web CMS but curated by the editors.
takes a very utilitarian approach to apps, offering an array of free iPhone apps such as the Wedding Dress Look Book
― “like having a little wedding planner in your pocket,” said Kate Ward, director of mobile and social media marketing at The Knot Inc.
“We feel like the iPhone apps give our readers a very focused utility and experience,” she said.
Community as content
Just because it's not a digital replica doesn't mean editors have to create new content for an app. The Knot uses its community to drive many of its iPhone apps. With the Wedding 911 app
, brides can go into the app to talk to other brides.
The Knot's iPad app
does offer some additional content. It also combines the best of its iPhone apps with the magazine, thereby embedding a community component. “It makes it a place where you don't just read it once and move on, because there's always new content there,” Ward said.
Pricing, subscription woes
Jerry Steinbrink, vice president for publishing at Consumers Union
, said people didn't want to pay $9.99 for the Consumer Reports Mobile Shopper iPhone app
. This put them in a difficult position, as their business model requires charging for content. When they price tested at $4.99, sales went up dramatically. “We're still trying to understand price variations at the iPhone level,” he said.
Digital newsstand providers
continued to tease out forthcoming platforms for publishers to facilitate a broader variety of subscriptions, but publishers will have to wait, it seems. Apple's subscription plan lacks the option for publishers to provide nuanced subscription options.
Publishers have plenty of complaints. Snell said Macworld intended to launch with a subscription but didn't make it through Apple's approval process. “Now we're in the position to back into another approach to get an annual subscription,” he said.
On the bright side, Snell noted that having a free app is one of the best app marketing
strategies a publisher can try, as it's difficult to stand out in the app store. “It's impossible to market,” he said. “All you have is a couple levels of copy to explain what your app is.”
“We consciously went out free, and did get on the charts,” he continued. “In some ways the best way to market yourself in the app store is to get on the charts.”