Thursday, August 23, 2012

The shop window is the only place to be in the digital high street

Here's a funny thing. When we launched The Word iPad app back in spring of this year Apple got in touch and asked us to supply some material. The app had been well-received in the press, there was no comparable music publication on the "shelves" of Apple's Newsstand and we thought we had a chance of having it featured in the tiny shop window through which the outside world makes its choices. While Apple obviously couldn't guarantee they were going to feature it on the front page we took the request as a very good sign. We waited a few weeks. Nothing happened. Yesterday, two months after we announced that we were closing the magazine, this appeared on the App Store under "What's Hot".

I'm not saying that if we'd had this prominence back in May it would have saved the magazine. It might however have helped indicate whether we could have reached a new, potentially international readership with a digital version that we could have never reached with a physical product. As it was we were largely appealing to people who already knew the magazine and wanted another way to access it. The sales figures were good but they weren't good enough to justify pinning everything on an app future.

This is the crowning irony of the digital distribution of anything. Unless you can get in the front window of iTunes, of Amazon, of Spotify, of whatever comes next, you are condemned to spend your days in the stygian gloom at The Back Of The Shop, where few shoppers venture, where everything is available and nothing actually moves.

In the old days of Borders, book publishers would pay large sums of money to have their paperbacks stacked on those tables near the door because they knew that only by creating the illusion that something was already selling could they get it to sell in quantities big enough to pay for the stacking.

In theory people want limitless choice. In practice they want as little choice as possible.


  1. It's an old story. In the early days of the internet, some of the movers and shakers - Gates and Ellison and people - got together for a summit at which they enthused about the possibilities the internet offered, of limitless choice for the consumer in particular. People would put together their own entertainment from endless programme choices, TV stations and newspapers would die and so on. They'd forgotten to order lunch so at midday hurried down to the diner to be presented with the usual directory-sized menu. "I don't got time for this" said the first guru to the waitress, "what's good today?" "Meatloaf is going well", she replied, "Fine", he said, tossing the menu aside, "I'll take the meatloaf".
    History reports that a thoughtful silence fell across the table...

  2. The Word had obviously ran its course; everything has a shelf life. But the silver lining, for me anyway, is The Week: what a splendid periodical. A weekly roundup of the UK's news c/w entertainment, sport, literature and music. Even cartoons. And no conjecture, speculation, filler or editorial navel gazing.

  3. Someone far wiser than me once wrote that in the information age, the most valuable commodity is attention.

    If you can't be found (and, believe me, searching the App Store for a particular e-magazine is often hard work), you've lost.

    John (Word subscriber (as was))