The App’s The Thing
As the iPad frenzy continues, magazine publishers are once again headed for the gold fields of digital editions (or DEs). Last week, Time launched a splashy — and expensive — iPad edition, and Zinio’s reader has become the #1 free app for the iPad, to name only two examples. Apple has left itself vulnerable to an Android/Flash counterattack, but the DE 2.0 bubble has clearly begun. Not everyone will survive.
Tablet-based digital editions — on the iPad or elsewhere — are beginning to explore truly useful interactivity. First generation DEs were often little more than digital facsimile flipbooks, the better ones adding search, article sharing and the insertion of URLs. All that has changed. Time’s new iPad wonder was created with newly announced WoodWing technology — allowing InDesign users to easily add photo galleries, videos, live data feeds and other non-print elements while creating the print version. The final product includes flexible article reading views and other nice touches for multi-media viewing. Early audience feedback has been positive, although the $4.99-per-issue price has not gone over well.
The early bumps will be worked out, including the chaos of multiple vendors creating multiple user interfaces, and visibility limitations for display ads. Even Apple has generously offered to help on the in-app mobile advertising front. These are evolutionary changes, however. The real DE revolution — the issue that will make or break a magazine’s efforts — is the use of interactive, truly personalized apps within the greater app that is the magazine’s digital edition.
WoodWing has anticipated this, allowing designers to insert interactive “widgets” in each issue. Other DE developers are moving in this direction. More than slideshows and video clips, these embedded apps represent publishers’ and advertisers’ best hope for creating real engagement — and a reason to bet on the success of digital editions on any platform.
Personalization is the key to a successful embedded app, and to the digital edition that features it. Giving the subscriber reasons to keep using the app — whether or not they buy anything today — will make it a thing of value, a compelling motivation to prefer the DE over the printed version. The possibilities are endless, from collections of one’s favorite recipes to business surveys to vacation itineraries, and so forth. Creating and saving actionable information, based on individual needs and requests, will be at the heart of successful apps within magazine DEs.
Embedding video or games in a digital edition might seem like a good idea, but there are plenty of media and entertainment companies that do such things better than most magazine publishers. Engaging, personalized apps, on the other hand, are new to almost everyone. They can also leverage the inherent storytelling and data gathering strengths of any good magazine and its advertisers. Let the creativity begin!
John Parsons (firstname.lastname@example.org), former Editorial Director of The Seybold Report, is an independent writer, ghostwriter, and editor. He is the co-author of the interactive printed textbook, Introduction to Graphic Communication, on the art, science and business of print, which has been adopted by Ryerson, Arizona State, the University of Houston, and many other schools and vocational training centers. Custom editions of the book are under consideration by major printing companies and franchises for internal training purposes.