Actually, Some Publishers Do Like Apps: An Answer to Jason Pontin
Who can resist the person brave enough to cry out that the emperor has no clothes? Once again Technology Review’s Jason Pontin has done that for us by announcing that Publishers Don’t Like Apps. Pontin has a history of making stirs by announcing the end of things and there usually seems to be a kernel of truth in what he says—a kernel that might be overlooked in a more moderate pronouncement.
When Pontin tells us that TR is moving away from apps, I remember back when he announced that print had no future and rather grandly, pulled his magazine off the newsstand to focus on its digital future. Not very long after Technology Review very quietly returned to retail and there it remains to this day. Yet the specter that Pontin evoked back then still breathes down our necks and informs every decision that publishers make every day.
Declaring the demise of something still in its infancy would be a good bit more extreme. What apps might be, what revenues they might generate, what audience they will command, are all questions that are being asked by innovative publishers, Technology Review and others. While many publishers are still debating whether an app should be a digital magazine or something more interactive, in Apple or Android or HTML5 format, Catherine Lee, the publisher of Discovery Girls magazine, has created something special.
Write once, publish everywhere might be a strategy that works, maybe not for Technology Review, but for some. But Catherine Lee knows that the eight-to-twelve year old girls who make up her audience pick up an iPad or a smartphone for very different reasons than they pick up a print copy of her magazine.
“I talk to these girls, I stay close to them and find out what they like,” Lee said. “They don’t want the print publication on their iPad. They want to read print in print; and when they are traveling and playing they want something creative and fun and interactive.”
From that general starting point, Lee explored various options, meeting and talking with tween girls everywhere she went. “I had a group of girls on an airplane playing with my app, making suggestions, telling me what would work and what wouldn’t. I made our app for them.”
What Lee created was not a digital copy of Discovery Girls for sale on Apple’s newsstand and in the app store. Discovery Girls’ launch app is an interactive Cover Creator. Tween girls can create their own covers with existing or new photos; they can work with templates or invent unique designs; they can create features or be cover girls.
The app showcases the possibilities for learning, creativity and entertainment that Discovery Girls magazine brings to its audience. It includes the interactivity and play value that the tween girl market looks for in an app. It doesn’t duplicate what the publisher already does; it isn’t an attempt to shift readers from one platform to another. Instead, it contains within it the source of new readers; it allows for the possibility of expanding the audience by adding content and value in channel-appropriate ways.
In short, it provides platform-appropriate content that meets the needs of the audience and informs and entertains. Isn’t that what every publisher wants to create with an app, a Web portal—or a print publication?
Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (www.PSCSConsulting.com), offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google Plus, Magazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.