Cover Story: Building A Sustainable Future
When it came time to produce an app, Future decided the best way to take advantage of the opportunity was to go to its readers before breaking out the publishing tools. Byrne's team asked MacLife readers what they wanted to see and which of the editor's suggestions mattered most to them. "We … invited them into the kitchen to help us bake the cake," she says.
Byrne believes many of the early iPad adapters made the mistake of over-designing, going for lots of whiz-bang features that did not focus in on the specific desires of a title's readership. "Publishers did souped-up versions of digital magazines," she says, "[with] slow-loading files that provided some additional service, but not a whole lot. And certainly one of the cool things is you can now share this stuff [through social media]."
The first app released for any Future product, the MacLife app—developed over seven weeks and launched in August 2010—was the first anywhere to feature a live social media feed, offering real-time user reviews of products and other live features.
To build interest, the initial release was free, as was a second version, released in December, which built out even more interactive features and opportunities for users to provide feedback on the product.
Future versions of the app will serve up paid subscriptions (through Zinio, if not Apple), Byrne says, and per-issue prices will run less than newsstand prices, while offering content clearly distinct from the print product.
MacLife demonstrates, as well as anything that has come along in the wake of the iPad's launch, the marketing and audience-building potential of a well-built app.
"MacLife is a magazine that very few people probably know. Newsstand sales are relatively modest compared to big magazines," Marcom says. "But suddenly you're in the top 10 news applications on iTunes, and you're in the same list as the BBC and The New York Times, and you're like, 'Wow.' It's a very level [and wide-open] playing field."