Monday, August 15, 2011

BoSacks Speaks Out: The New Yorker thrives on the iPad

BoSacks Speaks Out: I find it very amusing that after all these years we are finally re-discovering that our franchise is actually built mostly on words and the thinking that those words provide, rather than on super-substrates of any type, be they paper or plastic. At the end of day, publishers are the providers of information, plain and simple. Bells and whistles are an interesting sidebar, but if the content isn't what it ought to be, the extra fluff is meaningless. If you build it (unique and valuable content) they will not only come, but will also pay for it.

By no means mistake this for an anti-technologic rant. All I'm saying is that sometimes we forget what it is that we do. We are our best when we get back to the simple basics of an informational platform that contains excellence on a constant basis. If you don't have the best words in your sector of publishing, you are living an increasingly shorter dream of sustainability.


Thanks to simplicity, the New Yorker thrives on the iPad

BY Patricio Robles

As publishers and new media companies try to tap into the potential offered by the iPad, many have decided that offering richer, multimedia-laden experiences is the way to go.

Take Push Pop Press, for instance. Its vision for tablet publications: turn them into interactive applications. Its centerpiece, Al Gore's Our Choice interactive e-book, was heralded as "one of the most...impressive apps you've ever seen."

Yesterday, Push Pop Press was acquired by Facebook in what appears to be a talent acquisition. According to a post on the company website, "we're taking our publishing technology and everything we've learned and are setting off to help design the world's largest book, Facebook." By all appearances, there's a reason for this: Push Pop Press' vision for traditional publications, as appealing as it might be on paper, simply hasn't taken off.

At the same time, however, one traditional publication is thriving with a much simpler model. As revealed in a New York Times article, The New Yorker is doing quite well without turning its iPad version into a feast for the senses. Approximately 20,000 of the 100,000 readers who read The New Yorker iPad app paid $59.99/year for a subscription, and "several thousand more" pay $4.99/week for single issues.

As The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters notes, "When magazine publishers began pouring their resources and hopes into the iPad, their thinking was that readers wanted something substantially more than just words on a screen. A simple PDF of a page just would not do." Such assumptions may have been wrong.

The interface of The New Yorker iPad app is closer to a PDF than it is to the type of multimedia extravaganza that other magazine apps are trying to provide. According to The New Yorker's deputy editor, Pamela Maffei McCarthy, there's a reason for this: "That was really important to us: to create an app all about reading. There are some bells and whistles, but we're very careful about that. We think about whether or not they add any value. And if they don't, out the window they go."

The key point: it's all about value. Traditional publishers thinking more about the iPad's capabilities than what their readers expect on the iPad are more likely to produce a tablet publication that produces more interest from industry folk than it does interest from actual readers. In many cases, attempts at impressing the critics leave readers dissatisfied.


NYT: For New Yorker on iPad, Words Are the Thing

Author Khoi Vinh

The New York Times reports that of all of Condé Nast's many splashy iPad magazine apps the relatively boring New Yorker is its most successful. It now boasts about 100,000 readers, 20,000 of whom bought annual subscriptions.

"...The figures are the highest of any iPad edition sold by Condé Nast, which also publishes Wired, GQ, Vanity Fair, Glamour and others on the Apple tablet... The New Yorker, a magazine that has always been heavy on text, took a different tack from its peers. Instead of loading its iPad app with interactive features, the magazine focused on presenting its articles in a clean, readable format."

This is part of the strategy that I've been advocating for in my various critiques of Condé's approach to the iPad. In short, the best way to serve a reading audience is to focus on providing a terrific reading experience and to de-emphasize the showy, buggy and difficult-to-use extras that have become synonymous with the 'iPad magazine app' format. And in fact, I'm a regular user of The New Yorker app, especially while traveling, because it gives me reasonably unfettered access to the only thing I'm seriously interested in: the text.

None of which is to say, though, that The New Yorker app is anywhere close to perfect. First, it could use a code refresh as it crashes so frequently as to be unusable; in my recent experience all it takes to induce it to unexpectedly quit is to launch it and let it alone for five to ten seconds.

Second, selling 20,000 paid subscriptions is fantastic, but according to the Times as many as 75,000 of the app's customers are, like myself, originally subscribers to the print edition. So in fact the majority of customers do not represent an expansion of the market at all. None of these numbers are to be sneezed at, of course, and even transitioning a print subscriber to the digital edition can be counted as a kind of win. But it strikes me that the whole lot of customers would be better served with an HTML5-powered app, rather than the current native app. That way, it would be significantly cheaper to service those 100,000 users and significantly easier to keep it from crashing so much.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

BoSacks Speaks Out: How to Survive in Publishing

Today's Publishing Career: We Are All Vulnerable
Talent and excellence are no safeguard against the winds of change.

By Robert M. Sacks

I'm a lucky man, and I know it. I have had the privilege and honor of working with some of the brightest minds and leadership, in my opinion, in our industry, and in the best of both worlds: I have worked as a self-employed magazine entrepreneur many times over, and I have worked for the best and most sophisticated publishing houses in the world.

In my rounds as industry provocateur, I have the freedom to meet with all levels of management from the very top of our industry, through middle management, to entry-level personnel and students at journalism schools.

I am mentioning this because of an interesting conversation I had this week with a major publisher at a major publishing house. My trick question to him was pretty straightforward: "Do you expect to retire from your current company?" His response was quick, but not immediate; I saw the wheels turning and his pondering, and then the honest answer was delivered: "No."

I have talked about careers in this column before, and I will most likely do so again. It was fascinating to me to know this man and understand the varied career path that took him to top of the publishing food chain, and to see that he forgot, at least for a little while, that he replaced somebody and that somebody will replace him, too. It is not an "if" question; it is a definitive "when" question. And if it is only a "when" question, then we need to ponder on whose terms will the "when" be when it actually happens. Yours or "theirs"?

My reason for asking him was to remind him of one of the most basic and obvious lessons of 21st-century publishing-we are all subject to the winds of change. From a career perspective, it is true that we are most vulnerable when we are the most comfortable.

On the same topic, I received a résumé yesterday from a man in his 50s, who is now out of work. I can tell you that he worked for his last company for at least 20 years and that he was very good at what he did. Being good at your job and having longevity at it doesn't matter at all in the world of disposable products and disposable careers. In his note to me, he said the cardinal sin of all personal careerism, "I didn't see that coming."

What? You didn't see that coming? We all have it coming sooner or later. That is why we must all do two things at the same time: We all must be the very best at what we do today in our current job and always have the next job lined up, or at least in our sights and in our heads. This is a case where I promise you that holding two completely separate ideas in your head at the same time will not make your head explode nor your career implode.

With all this drama about our careers and the changing landscape of the publishing world, I also believe that this is a great time to rethink the unthinkable. I have in my notes an expression that someone said. I didn't write from where it came, and it could even have been my own scrawling, but it is worth thinking about and perhaps agreeing with. The expression is this: "This is a unique and historic period where the unthinkable has never been more possible. We live in one of the greatest periods of experimentation, innovation and entrepreneurism that the world has ever seen." I believe that it can and should be a very exciting time to be in this business, if you can keep your wits about you and pay attention to the many swirling forces of change.

To the publisher with whom I was talking or the circulator with whom I was corresponding, I ask the same thing: Where are you going to from here, because you can't stay where you are. You can't ever say, "I didn't see it coming," because it always is. You can't rest on your laurels, because they are never strong enough to support you for very long.

In a market that is reinventing itself on a minute-by-minute basis, are you doing the same thing?

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group ( He also is co-founder of research company mediaIDEAS (, and publisher and editor of a daily, international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web.