Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Publishers are flubbing the iPad

Two years after the debut of the iPad, most newspaper publishers still are fretting and fumbling over what to do about it.

Even though the iPad 2 was one of most popular items at Christmas and the third-generation version of the product is likely to turn up well before Santa returns this year, many newspapers have yet to develop their very first app. Of the publishers who took the plunge, most were so unclear on the concept that they shouldn't have bothered.

But publishers have to start doing better, because iPad owners, who represent the vast bulk of the tablet computing market, look an awful lot like newspaper readers.

In a study released last year, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 90% of tablet owners – who are concentrated among wealthy, highly educated grownups between the ages of 30 and 49 – regularly use the gizmos to consume news. Significantly, 59% of the respondents said the tablet has taken the place of “what they used to get” from a print newspaper.

In other words, tablet users represent not just a potentially valuable audience for publishers but also one they can’t afford to lose.

Notwithstanding the stakes, publishers have been anything but nimble in addressing the best medium yet for transitioning the traditional print experience to a truly compelling, lean-back digital platform.

Because newspapers seldom invest in creating bespoke digital content for their apps, their iPad offerings pale in comparison to those produced by any number of competing magazines, broadcasters and native digital publishers, including – to name but a few – Bloomberg BusinessWeek, France24, BBC and News Corp.’s The Daily, which, though journalistically anemic, is pointed in the right direction. All of these apps, like the most of the 140,000 others available at the Apple store, feature interactive tools, rich graphics, audio, video, maps and much more. That is to say: They fully leverage the power of this new medium.

Newspapers, on the other hand, largely have punted, letting readers use the incumbent Safari web browser on the iPad to plumb the dense, user-unfriendly websites where publishers dump their print output for consumption on the web. In contrast to the crisp, graphically engaging and highly interactive apps flooding the Apple store, the typical newspaper site is filled with gray, meandering columns of text requiring multiple swipes to get to the bottom of the page. That is to say: Newspapers don’t come close to leveraging the power of this new medium.

The few newspaper publishers who ventured into app development tripped themselves up.

While the New York Times is one of the few publishers successfully charging for access to its digital content, its text-centric iPad app offers only a limited sample of the material available in print. The sparseness of the news report combined with the paucity of interactive content make for a distinctly tepid experience.

In Silicon Valley of all places, The San Francisco Chronicle concocted a paid app that includes a smattering of up-to-date news and sports but relies heavily on such archival material as old – and I do mean old – columns from the late, great Herb Caen, who died in 1997, pounding his Loyal Royal typewriter to the end. How could the paper be more out of touch?

In perhaps the saddest iPad project of all, the Philadelphia Inquirer produced an app consisting of a clunky, slow-to-load, scarcely interactive PDF of its broadsheet. Then, hoping to build a base of dedicated users for this less-than-scintillating experience, the publisher slapped the app on 5,000 tablets manufactured by some no-name company in France. At last report, a fair number of those no-name tablets were gathering dust in some warehouse.

There is one bright spot: It's The Peel app launched by the Orange Country Register, which is updated in the early evening each day at the time when iPad use is known to peak. Built from inception as a dedicated app, the easy-to-navigate Peel includes not just the latest news, traffic, weather and sports but also splashy pictures, interesting video and other elements that make it visually appealing, quick to read and fun.

The Peel doesn’t look, feel or act like a newspaper, because is not supposed to. And that’s the point:

The key to successful iPad development is not to reprise the newspaper but to leverage the platform to create new experiences for audiences you are trying to attract, be they football fans, barbeque aficionados or architecture buffs.

Beyond selling advertising, a successful app can get consumers to subscribe to unique, premium content. Although Pew discovered that four out of five people won’t buy news on the iPad, Zynga’s $7 billion IPO valuation proves consumers will spend money on something they care about.

Tapping into consumer passions is the way to win in AppVille.

© 2012 Editor & Publisher


Blogger mgjr said...

We decided an app isn't the best use of money and time. The app would have to be constantly updated and maintained which isn't cheap. We will never be able to afford an app with the functionality that would make us stand out; however, we can update our website with mobile templates and xml that make it a great user experience for a fraction of the cost and maintenance. We are in the process of doing that and should be done by the end of Feb. Like most publishers we have seen our mobile traffic hockey stick since the holidays and providing a user friendly mobile interface is a cost of doing business.

6:38 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Krim said...

Alan, disappointed to see no mention in this conversation of our Wall Street Journal app, which is rapidly expanding its graphical reach (check out the Personal Journal section each day). Not to mention its new companion, WSJ Live, which is our video service. Yes, I'm shilling.

-- Jonathan Krim
WSJ digital

8:03 AM  
Blogger mgjr said...

We have looked at many many different app options from startups that don't charge anything to the really expensive apps. The free and low cost options we looked at didn't offer enough functionality to justify putting them out to our readers and we could offer more functionality and integration with the template approach. When we looked at the way traffic was moving and checked in with Poynter and various other sources they reported that people using tablets were more often using their browsers than an app for the type of content we are delivering. That isn't to say people weren't using apps, it's that the most functional apps were used most and those are the most expensive. When we looked at the way our own mobile traffic spiked in the last 4 months to our rudimentary mobile version it appears that people were using their browsers to visit our site. We decided that improving the templates ourselves gave us much more control and ease of use since we generate those with our CMS. Using the templates also means we don't have to direct people to download and use an app and instead can concentrate all of our marketing to sending people to our site with the knowledge that if they are on a desktop, mobile phone, or tablet they will have a good experience. And yes, we have multiple people with the original iPad, iPad2 (both with and without 3G), and Kindle fire. Ideally we would love to have a kick A%$# app, but we don't have the resources for that so a choice had to be made. We did our research and made our choice. Hopefully we are correct, there are no guarantees.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Paul Steinle said...

Dumping – Really?

Alan, you make some excellent points in your article about the challenge of shaping new newspaper-originated products, e.g. iPad-friendly materials. But, maybe the reason it's taking some time to master is that it's simply a difficult, challenging transition, filled with vexing trade-offs.

As you points out (and The New York Times, Business Section, Feb. 6, 2012, agrees), The Daily -- a multi-million dollar iPad-targeted initiative financed by News Corp. -- still hasn't conquered this new medium, but it's showing promise.

So, maybe it's going to take a while and some major investments to develop formats that really are iPad-savvy. And maybe the "delay" in creating these new iPad-centric products is due to a learning curve and a trade-off problem rather than a "why-are-those-newspapers-so-reluctant-to-change" problem?

Too often, in reporting on the transition of the newspaper industry to a multimedia, multi-platform industry -- analysts want to cast newspaper publishers as a crew of print-centric Neanderthals, who just don't get the Internet.

You wrote: "... publishers dump their print output for consumption on the Web."

Dump is a loaded, politicized verb. In fact, the stuff they are accused of "dumping" is the news content that has been collected, vetted and edited by their professional news staff -- so perhaps it has more value than something you'd find at the dump.

More importantly as you know, We've recently visited 50 newspapers across the USA and discovered that none of the papers we visited think they are dumping newspaper-style content on the web.

Most of these newspapers are fronting their websites and mobile apps with Interet-ready breaking news, 18/7 (if not 24/7). And, by the way, using breaking-news is something The Daily seemed to overlook at first on its site, according to The New York Times report.

So you are correct when you write there is a new medium to conquer -- the instant iPad (tablet) news delivery device.

But, perhaps more thought should be invested in devising tactics publishers can use to enter this new domain (affordably) and make the trade-offs they need to guide them as a bewildering array of new media alternatives arrive at their doorsteps daily.

From what we've seen, the newspaper industry wants to evolve, but the stakes are high and road ahead is baffling at times (even when you've got dollars to burn as News Corp. does.).

Paul Steinle and Sara brown www.WhoNeedsNewspapers.org

3:02 PM  
Blogger chuckl said...

one digital how to book developer described our current scenario to me this way: the first TV shows, when TV was brand new, in the late 1940s were just radio shows where you could now watch the announcer talking into the microphone and acting out characters. It wasn't until Milton Berle realized on the Texaco Comedy Hour that a visual medium required new content, not just adaptation of content made for the prior medium.
I think most newspaper publishers are still thinking like those original TV producers, trying to shoehorn outdated content into a device that is capable of much more, and whose audience demands new content and a new approach.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Racoon said...

"In contrast to the crisp, graphically engaging and highly interactive apps flooding the Apple store, the typical newspaper site is filled with gray, meandering columns"

Alan, you seem to be comparing traditional broadsheets to USA Today. How 1980's!!

6:18 PM  
Blogger jcp said...

Alan, thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking post. But I think your presumption that iPad apps must be chock-full of interactivity, video, and other technological bells & whistles is flawed. The New Yorker is a great example of a publication that's put out an elegant iPad edition focused on what people do when they read the magazine: reading. Similarly, when I settle into a subway seat with my NYT iPad edition, which I do each morning, I don't really want to watch a video or click on an interactive graphic. I want to read the paper, and to do so in a format that's customized to my tablet screen. On this front, the NYT iPad edition (and others including the Guardian's) delivers. Some, and perhaps many, publications, of course, should take advantage of all the technological oomph the iPad promises - 3-D floorplans for architecture magazines and click-through e-commerce for fashion mags, among countless other options, come to mind. And newspapers like the NYT should, of course, continue to work on improving their tablet editions to ensure they're capitalizing on the best the technology has to offer - especially for the evening readers you highlight, who are more likely to want some technological fireworks than squeezed subway subscribers. But let's acknowledge that developing new editions for new platforms is a daunting task and congratulate the publishers who've taken the first and most crucial step - ensuing their key product, high-quality news, is available on the device in a clear and readable fashion.

12:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have to consider that perhaps an app is a flash in the pan. From the newspaper's perspective you have to maintain the website, an app for iOS, an app for Android, both pads and phones. That's a lot of development.

It seems wiser, and the FT agreed, to develop one "app" for all platforms, ie HTML5. Go to the FT's website, app.ft.com and you get an "app" experience. From a development standpoint this makes a lot more sense and could be the stake through the heart of the app which could fade through clutter in the coming years.

Another point is perhaps social networking is vastly more important than having an app. The WP's FB app seems to be driving more traffic to their stories than their app does. And FB has 850 million users accessing information which is vastly more than there are smart-phone users.

So yes, newspapers may be waiting, but there may be method to their madness.

1:37 AM  
Blogger Newsosaur said...

The previous commenter is correct in saying that an HTML5 site could be a better way than a dedicated app for a news produc to be represented on the iPad and other mobile platforms.

However, most publishers are no closer to thinking about HTML5 renditions of their web pages than they are to building apps. So, the problem of mobile "tone-deafness" remains.

8:27 AM  
Blogger mgjr said...

I have to take issue with that last comment about Publishers not thinking about HTML5. All of the templates I talked about earlier are going to be HTML5 and I know my peers are thinking the same way. We were all actually very excited about the ascendancy of HTML5 as it gave us a way to go mobile without the cost and complexity of an app.

I have to agree with the poster the talked about the importance of social media. We recently ran a test Foursquare campaign where we added multiple lists and 100's of tips. I was hoping to see a little pop in referral traffic but what we got was even better. People were doing the tips which is much more valuable than referral traffic. We can show clients that we can drive people to their locations and spend money.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Mikey said...

"Although Pew discovered that four out of five people won’t buy news on the iPad..."

Just sayin': Netmarketshare.com report for January 2012 puts total mobile+tablet (smart phones and tablets) users at 8.77% of all Internet users. Just about exactly half of the 8.77% (4.75%) are using iOS (i.e., they are either iPhones or iPads). One could say there is a "hockey stick" trend with mobile, but it is not clear yet what the tablet share will be down the road (versus the smart phone).

9:08 AM  
Blogger DS said...

Can you talk about ways to measure your audience with apps vs. websites? Our paper long ago began a daily photo app - which is granted not nearly as good as combining photos with stories. But we do not know how many check it each day - we only know how many thousand people originally downloaded the app. So we have added a daily task of unknown worth.

Are we missing the boat here or is everybody stumbling in the dark? I find that hard to believe.

Our paper is very actively and aggressively developing a new website, mobile and tablet experience using html5.

I'd bet many others are as well.

The apps? Of unknown worth. The new websites? Much more measurable and all-encompassing. It seems perhaps the bigger bang for the buck.

1:29 PM  
Blogger ccoc said...

@mgir - I'd recommend finding a supplier who can provide you with a licensed platform approach that will evolved with your needs.The app development approach is flawed and an app will often break on a major OS upgrade. It you just think of the opportunity as print under glass - the industry is doomed. There is so much that can be done to provide a really compelling engaging environment for the readers - social commerce is one areas the newspapers should be looking at hard, video engagement with their audience - check out services such as Tout, the list goes on - there are sponsorship, rich media branded advertising, lead generation, affiliate revenues streams and more. Tablets offer publishers the biggest opportunity in debated and while the web has not been a great experience for media companies - I believe tablets provide them a reset opportunity. Within a few years tablets will be outselling PC. But any mobile strategy has to look across all screens - smartphones, tablets, laptops / desktops and even Internet TVs'

@Jonathan Frim Agree that WSJ has some interesting developments - pricing strategies leave a little to be desired

@Douglas Hebbard - agreed but many may be better off with a 3rd party who has the responsibility of keeping up with all the OS changes and deals with iOS, Android, Amazon, W8 etc.

@Paul Steinie - good observations - however for the next year or two it is going to primarily be a iPad market - by 2014 that may start to change but for now I'd worry less about the fragmentation on Android and focus mainly on iOS for apps coupled with a general HTML5 strategy. The FT has shown what's possible with an HTM5 strategy (if expensive)

@chuckl - spot on - most (not all) newspaper have used a digital replica strategy via Press Display or repurposed their cluttered web pages. I wonder just how many newspaper execs read the digital replica ?

@jcp - gratuitous and inappropriate use of multimedia is a distraction - sensible use is a great enhancement. A dynamic environment can encourage conversation and engagement - there will be a whole range of options. Different audiences will look for different experiences. I love the New Yorker, I think Readability is a great service but at other times I was to see exciting dynamic info graphics, video etc. We're sill at the beginning of an exciting journey

@ David Brauchli - even with HTML5 - there are a lot of issues around screen size, device capabilities, caching etc. The FT (maybe soon to be Thomson Reuters) is unique given it's brand strength - it spent a fortune on developing the HTML5 app and if Apple had bent a little earlier on its terms wonder if they would have gone in that direction. The Apple Newsstand is an effective distribution channel driving sales. Long-term the jury is out on Apps vas HTML5 - I'd recommend developing where possible in HTML5 and related technologies - and then put within an app wrapper when appropriate for access to device functionality and for distribution. By all means experiment with an HTML5 version. Getting experience of both approaches is important.

Great conversation - thanks Alan

2:08 PM  
Blogger Mike Meyer said...

My local newspaper, the LA Times, is really shooting itself in the foot over digital, to the point where they may soon lose me as a customer.

They offer a digital pdf edition which makes no sense whatsoever, being a capture of the broadsheet essentially that isn't really sized well for any device, free apps for the iphone and ipad, and their website. They don't offer a way to actually subscribe to the paper on the iphone or ipad, or if they do, they certainly haven't told their subscribers.

In the meantime, their website is now running many of their articles 2-3 days earlier than they appear in the print edition. I'm starting to feel like a big sucker paying $40-some a month for the paper edition when all I really want to do is read the paper on my iPad. If they did a iTunes newsstand version of the paper that was configurable so I could concentrate on the sections I care about, I'd pay at least $15 a month and feel I was getting a good deal. Given the cost of printing, distribution, delivery, paper, ink, the paper would save money as well.

My needs are pretty simple: wifi download of the days' news, offline reading in the subway, perhaps an option to save articles on-device for later. It doesn't have to be that talented an app, but they don't seem to be inclined to sell it to me. Give me an inferior product, yes, but not sell me what I want. This is not good business.

Instead, it's looking more and more feasible to just cancel my subscription and read the website for free.

HTML 5 is not an alternative for an app, it's just a formatting language for content. Web browsers don't have coinslots. Apps do, and I'm pretty sure that paying Apple 30% is far better a deal than paying home delivery people, printers unions, news distributors, etc. their cut.

A great mobile app can certainly use HTML5 to simplify the authoring pipeline and offer a more device-aware experience, but the thing you get from a mobile app that you won't get in a web browser is the ability to build a more customer-centric untethered mobile experience. The weak link in mobile is network connectivity, which means you should try to put your content on the device and keep it there without assuming the user will continually have a fast reliable connection.

Before worrying about how great a multimedia experience you can put on the device, make it a newspaper I can carry under my arm without worrying about the words disappearing when my train hits a tunnel. No, the key to a successful mobile app is more like Instapaper, get the paper downloaded before you leave the house, store the stories as long as user needs them, and take advantage of the ability to search, retrieve, and store content and user preferences on device. These are all things which are easy to do on apps and somewhat less robust in the browser world, especially when you don't have a wifi connection.

It's early in the game, still, and a lot of the promising technologies take a while to absorb, but Apple's Newsstand platform goes a long way towards providing some important components. The hottest part is that Newsstand updates are automatically downloaded to the customer, so they just pick up the iPad and have the paper waiting. Too many people are concentrating on the flashier aspects of the iPad and missing the very fundamental way it enables a business model that looks like selling and using newspapers without a lot of the old headaches.

3:12 AM  

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