Saturday, January 01, 2011

More thoughts on iPad magazine apps

Recently released audit figures from the United States suggest that the iPad magazine apps which launched in a blaze of glory last year have not built on their success. While the owner base has expanded at a staggering rate, downloads of iPad magazine apps have gone in the opposite direction. Geeks blame this on file size; publishers on the absence of an appropriate subscription model. I think it's a lot more fundamental than that.

The new figures don't merely suggest that the early adopters have not been convinced. They suggest that a lot of people aren't particularly curious to know what a magazine on an iPad might look like. If they were curious the figures would at the very least have sustained their previous levels. Why should they be bothered? If you like reading Vogue or Vanity Fair then one of the things you like most about it is the feel of it under your fingers. An iPad version can only be an expensive second-best. On the other hand if you're a reader of a high frequency, information-heavy title like The Economist, who offer a very good iPad version to their subscribers for free, then you appreciate being able to have it with you at all times.

I just read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom on the Kindle, on my iPhone and on the iPad. Since it syncs across all the different platforms you can set it down on one machine and resume reading at exactly the same point on another machine. Hence I read it far more quickly, and probably with more understanding, than I would have done on paper. Electronic readers are perfectly suited to the efficient absorption of information. They're no good at replicating the idle serendipity of the standard magazine experience.

It's interesting that the iPad application which styles itself "your personalised, social magazine" should call itself "Flipboard" in honour of that very inadvertent leafing.


  1. I bought an issue of The New Yorker on the iPad and was rather disappointed. Not the experience it purported to be. I would LOVE to be able to read The Word on my iPad though.

  2. You're right. The Economist suits the iPad perfectly for me, because it enhances the experience by making it always available to me and also by reading itself aloud, so I'm more likely to be able to keep up with all the content in that week's issue.

    But Mountain Bike magazines and some other types I'm not even interested in seeing on the device. They are pleasureable, browsing experiences and are just nicer on paper. WIRED seems to fit with that latter type for me too - I might pick one up again at the airport for a long journey, but I don't think I will buy another one for the iPad - the first one I did was fun, but just not exciting enough for me to want another.

  3. Part of the problem for me is the formatting of the material on the ipad.
    I find The Times easy to read, in a similar way to books on the Kindle app. It's easy to read because there is no sideways scrolling on each individual page, whereas with Rolling Stone on Zinio you are constantly zooming in and out and scrolling from side to side as the pages of the mag are wider than the ipad.
    If Word ever goes on the ipad it would be best for me it it was tailored to fit.

  4. Never understood all the fuss about flipboard. Sure it's clever and looks good but it I don't find it a good way to consume information. I bought Project to have a look at it but was not impressed - too fussy. Haven't been bothered to look at any others.

  5. i query your assumption that people like paper. i imagine that the majority of people are at best indifferent to it, and the advantages of e-reading - always available, bookmarking, cheaper (in theory) - will win out.

    publishers are squandering the opportunity by failing to listen to user needs when they reorganise their content for tablet devices. if i can't download the magazine/newspaper over 3g, that's a fail. if i have to turn the device a particular way to read content, that's another fail. if some articles go up/down and some go right/left, that's another fail.

    three strikes and you're out for the times by my reckoning, and even wired (best example of the genre i've seen) fails on two of the three points above.

  6. Paper magazines have been around for awhile and there are clear models of alternative ways of putting one together (Foreign Affairs, the Economist, Teen Cosmo, MAD RayGun; there isn't one paradigm).

    iPad mags are new for everyone, publisher and readership. Publishers, designers and programmers have a modicum of understanding of what can be done but nobody is quite sure what works well.

    It's indicative of the time we live in that when the first few editions of an entirely new incarnation of the concept of magazine doesn't feel quite right that the sobriquet "Fail" gets tossed out and the whole endeavour called into question.

    IMO the advantages of digital magazines will win out over time as publishers develop clearer ideas of what works well for their content and we as readers have become familiar with the new approaches.