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.