One of the many debates media companies face when embarking on app development is whether to offer a digital replica of their magazine or some other kind of custom, utilitarian app. For many, the latter option probably isn't in their budget. Texterity and The Wonderfactory are addressing what will likely be more of the norm for mobile publication apps: a digital replica that can be enhanced with interactive and immersive features.
The pair teamed up last year to build a cross-platform solution
for publishers that can't afford or don't want to develop a custom app but but still want to add some bells and whistles to their tablet apps. Martin Hensel, president of Texterity
, said the goal is to compress the sometimes lengthy cycle of app development for high-end design and put it in every publisher's arsenal. “We're basically trying to collapse that down so that every publisher has access to that great design that only Time Inc. and Conde Nast had before,” Hensel said in a phone interview.
The Wonderfactory's design includes interactive modules where publishers can display content beyond the print edition, such as video, RSS
feeds, whitepapers and social functions. "What we're trying to do is use the apps as a place to reintegrate all of the publishers content,” Hensel said.
Publishers can also integrate branded, utilitarian functions that previously might have been a separate app, Hensel noted. While branded apps were all the rage last year, "the problem with them is they have to be sponsored because they're generally not sufficiently worthwhile that a consumer will pay anything for them,” he said. He thinks utilitarian functions will fit well within the interactive modules of the digital magazine.
Joe McCambley, co-founder and creative director of The Wonderfactory
, said the module design focuses on usability and bringing true design back to the forefront
. While magazines will still evolve for mobile, and technology will improve (e.g. bandwidth), he sees this as a step to bringing creative people back into the picture. "There's a lot of great creative people that got left behind in 1994 [with the beginning of the Web]," he said. "I think it's going to be a catalyst for even bigger things to come. It's going to attract more great minds to the industry."
Monetizing apps with modules
The Texterity/Wonderfactory concept probably fits the bill for many publishers, though like any app platform, it depends on the features/price you want. Hensel said every publisher currently using Texterity's app editions (110 as of last week) will be moving to the Wonderfactory design (about 40 have already done so).
The obvious question is: How can publishers make money from this? Texterity envisions publishers pulling in sponsorship dollars for the modules.
magazine used the platform to launch its first iPad issue in March. Deb Mignucci, vice president of sales and group publisher for FamilyFun, said they've sold title sponsorships for every issue ― consisting of a splash page after the first cover and a message embedded on all of the interactive modules. So far they're using the Texterity/Wonderfactory modules for social media sharing/bookmarking and 360-degree video.
FamilyFun includes every advertiser in the print edition in the digital edition (for no charge right now). Those advertisers have the option to add modules to content in the digital edition ― which multiple advertisers have done. The magazine works with Flurry
to provide metrics back to advertisers, Mignucci said.
In addition to advertising, FamilyFun plans to begin a subscription model in June. “We’re not repeating the mistakes of the Web where everything is free,” said Mignucci. “Free is not a sustainable business model.”
Picking an app platform
Another big decision for publishers is whether to develop apps internally or externally
. Some industry experts say publishers will need to develop app development capabilities themselves; others say publishers will rely on outsourcing or a combination of the two.
“We really don’t have the capabilities in-house to do everything we would need to do, so we were going to outsource regardless,” Mignucci said. “Our choice was do we outsource a digital magazine or do we outsource a custom app?”
The Texterity offering made sense, she said, because it's affordable and fits their content strategy. The platform costs $1,500 per issue; the modules range between $200 and $500.
Mignucci likes the module concept because FamilyFun is still learning what consumers want from an IPad app; the modules allow them to add more interactivity as they go along.
"Our content is kind of uniquely suited for the iPad," she said. "It's very modular," featuring recipes, crafts and activities for an audience of moms, who have been receptive to the iPad.
Expect to see more competitors in this mid-level app development space. Texterity is one platform that seems to fit the needs of certain publishers looking for more than an app factory but less than a custom app.
"It’s very affordable but it’s scalable and it gives us the sort of bells and whistles that we need,” Mignucci said.