Digiday points out 3 mobile apps created by publishers that go above and beyond just recreating the web & print experience (look, feel, layout, content). You know, actual innovation on the mobile front:
Unfortunately for readers, it seems as though media outlets often take the path of least resistance and just port their online content into an app. There are a few, however, who forge their own paths. Here are three unique mobile apps where publishers are trying something new.
Orange County Register: This local California paper (1.3 million uniques in February 2012, according to comScore) takes a unique approach to delivering content on its app, The Peel. The outlet plays to the audience, serving stories throughout six categories — news, sports, business, trending, things to do, and photo/video gallery — that are chosen based on iPad reader’s interests and many of the stories can only be found within the application. Additionally, the app pushes content in the evening and each addition features content exclusively for the app. A novel approach for a local outlet, this app can go a long way for those living in the OC — or those just stopping by.
Download the app here.
WP Politics The Washington Post has an election 2012 specific app, which does way more than port content from its website. Sure, there’s news from the paper and a website that finds its way onto the app — like Ezra Klein’s blog or The Fact Checker — but the app delivers additional information that’s not on the site: a polling map for the uber-wonky who want to know how each candidate is faring in sentiment at any given time; candidate issues tracker, which uses motion graphics to provide users with an “at-a-glance” understanding of where each of the candidates stand, and previously stood, on the major issues of the campaign; the historical election results map, which includes every vote, in every state, for every candidate, in every presidential election since 1789, and is presented with Washington Post articles written before and after every election since 1880. This app is a political wonk’s dream as it gives information that can’t even be found on the Washington Post’s site.
Download the app here.
King’s Cross, London – Streetstories The Guardian recently released an app that lets users listen to the sounds of Foggy London Town while walking the streets of King’s Cross. Additionally, the app serves as a walking guide with more than 70 stories and two hours of audio material, all relevant to a user’s location. The app boasts of readings from Dickens (location-specific), the architecture of Gilbert Scott’s St. Pancras, as well interviews with former street workers giving listeners an oral history of the area. This is a great idea for users who want to learn more about their surroundings. Hopefully other major news outlets will follow in The Guardian’s footsteps, especially in cities around the world.
Download the app here.
Most news stories are covered by many media outlets. News is not a scarce commodity. Magazine articles, on the other hand, typically provide more in-depth commentary or analysis on interesting topics. A consumer can’t easily find other sources for a magazine story.
Hamish McKenzie argues that magazine publishers, like music publishers before them (album versus iTunes single), should break up the sacred magazine bundle online and allow consumers to either pay a Netflix type subscription to an all-you-can eat buffet of articles from a variety of publishers, or provide an a-la-carte menu for consumers to discover and pay for the articles they want to read
Of course, this implies that publishers would need to coordinate the development of an industry led technology and distribution platform (similar to Hulu), or watch an external technology company such as Flipboard, Google, Apple, or Amazon build a business model off the publisher’s content and own the relationship with the end consumer.
As McKenzie states:
The first problem is that there is an app for each magazine. To subscribe to the New Yorker, Wired, Vanity Fair, GQ, The Atlantic, Details, New York, and Time, you’ve got to have seven different apps, many of which are bloated. Some issues of Wired, for example, have weighed in at 500MB each. And what do you get inside? Aside from the occasional animation, or supplementary audio and video, they’re basically just digital facsimiles of the paper product. Worse – you can only get the stories if you get the whole magazine.
So here’s an idea for how to do it better and make money from it.
Break up the bundle. Present stories on an individual basis. Do to the magazine what iTunes did to the album, but do it with a Spotify model. And put it all into one app.
In short: build a platform not for magazines, but for magazine stories.
Here’s how it works. You have an app called something like Mag Reader. When you open Mag Reader, it shows you a list of the latest works from your favorite publications, as well as ones that align with your interests, or the stories currently most talked about on social media.
Each story is listed with a small picture, headline, by-line, date, relevancy rating (just like Netflix’s customized recommendations), introductory teaser, and publisher name. Before clicking through, you can expand each one to see more art work, the first few paragraphs, who has recommended the story, links to similar stories, and what else the publisher has put out recently. If you feel the urge, you can even buy the magazine issue into which the piece has been bundled for paper consumption.
You have a profile page, just like you do on Spotify or Facebook, on which your most recently read stories are listed alongside the stories you recommend most highly. On your page, you can also list your favourite magazines and writers, along with your interests. Perhaps you even list all the readers you follow, Twitter-style. You can discover new stories through the social connections you have built around your profile, just like you do now through Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader (people still use that, right?).
Each writer has a profile, too. Some writers will be affiliated with magazines; some will be independent. You can follow your favorite writers, so you’ll always know when they have a new story out. On his profile, a writer has a bio, links to his stories, and perhaps even a “works in progress” section that comes with a “donate” button, so readers can make financial contributions to stories they’d like to see materialize, Kickstarter-style.
Publishers have brand pages, as well, just like on Facebook. At each page, you can read about the magazine, check out the masthead, perhaps watch some behind-the-scenes footage, and maybe even subscribe to their bundled products.
The story-reading experience is seamless and alive. You can highlight passages you want to make a note of, just like you can on the Kindle. You can look up specific words in a dictionary. Publishers can easily integrate multimedia into their stories. Writers can update their stories as new information comes to hand. On each story you can leave comments that will then, if you so choose, publish to your Facebook profile. You will be able to sort comments on the stories to prioritize the ones written by “Friends” or “Friends of Friends” (thanks, Roman Meytin, for that idea).
One commenter from Germany, who actually tried to launch a service similar to the one described in the article, summarized the experience of trying to herd
cats publishers and get them to work together:
We presented our app to dozens of newspaper publishers and press agencies in Germany and we had around 20 of them joining our model as launching partners. But we realized very soon that this model was a failure.
Most newspapers, mainly the big and interesting ones, were not interested at all, they all wanted their OWN app in the AppStore. They did not want to promote an app that contains content from other newspapers. They did not want users to choose which article is interesting and which one is not. So, more or less all German newspapers launched their OWN apps, most of them never reached top 100 of the category news in appStore and – even more surprising – a lot of them are completely free or you have to pay an initial single payment of .79 €.
Digiday interviewed former New York Times design director Khoi Vinh, who has been critical of publishers’ approaches to the iPad.
How important is the emergence of HTML5 for tablet publishers? Can you see them gravitating towards browser-based experiences over apps as that technology becomes more robust?
There are two strains here. On the tech side, HTML5 is the way of the future. It’s too expensive to publish native apps for iOS, Android and all the different platforms. HTML5 is a much better delivery mechanism for this stuff than a native app. It’s much more affordable and much more portable. On the other side, though, it’s not just about the tech. I had underestimated how effective Apple’s AppStore would be in terms of distributing applications. You can’t beat that, so publishers will have to stay with apps for at least the immediate future.
To date, publishers seem to have focused on simply updating or transposing their print products for use on the device, but are they missing an opportunity in doing so? Should they be rethinking the way they deliver content from the ground up?
Absolutely. I just can’t see the end-to-end magazine format surviving. The Internet lets people consume media in a-la-carte form. To force a package of content on folks is unnatural. Some folks will continue to like the magazine format, but as social distribution becomes the way we discover and receive more of our content, it won’t make sense to sell it in these virtual boxes any more.
What possibilities should publishers be exploring, then?
One glaring omission in the way we package content for tablets is really relevance. Much like when you go to Amazon, they display similar products other people have bought; we don’t have anything nearly as good in realm of publishing. It’s not just recommendations, though. It’s about understanding true relevance. If you look at an app like Flipboard, that’s the one major thing it’s missing. The tech startup that can solve that problem will push forward this area of digital publishing in a big way.
Weigh in with your thoughts on publishers and their tablet strategies.