Magazine apps: Adjust to the iPad or fail

ipad-digital-magazinesKhoi Vinh, former design editor for the New York Times, is not impressed with the progress magazine app publishers’ have made in their early start. In his blog, Vinh’s main area of contention with magazine apps is that the majority of them aren’t doing anything innovative, instead relying on recreating their print versions for the iPad. “If publishers continue to pursue the print-centric strategies they’re focused on today, I’m willing to bet that most of them will fail,” he says.

The future of the news medium has been uncertain at best recently, but the dawn of the iPad was perhaps a beacon of hope, something that could possibly reinvigorate readers who had stopped buying print versions. So do publishers think the only reason magazine sales are dropping is because people don’t want to read print copies? It seems like that’s the case, based on the majority of apps out there. Vinh thinks, instead, that it’s time to go further and abandon the traditional page-by-page format most magazine apps are using.

And it looks like he might be right. Magazine apps have been on the market for about six months, so while it’s too early to make any far-reaching conclusions on how they will fare, we can definitely get an idea of what’s going well and what’s not. It appears that two defining things are working: apps that are using the iPad’s capabilities to their advantage, and tech-focused publications.

The latter of these two comes as no surprise – the fact that iPad users are buying the Wired and Popular Science apps is less than shocking. But that success isn’t only based on their genre, it’s also due to their product presentation. In an interview with Mashable, Josh Koppel of Scroll Motion (the team that developed Esquire’s thus-far-successful app) explains that readers need to be offered more in an app than if they bought a copy at the grocery store – a PDF version is not going to cut it.

Vinh comments on this exact issue, saying that “In a media world that looks increasingly like the busy downtown heart of a city – with innumerable activities, events and alternative sources for distraction around you – these apps demand that you confine yourself to a remote, suburban cul-de-sac.” It’s true that the way people consume information is drastically different than it was even just a few years ago. It’s fair to expect that as we evolve our reading habits, our reading materials adapt accordingly.

It’s still too early to write off magazine apps altogether. Even so, no one can deny that today, we (and maybe even especially iPad users) demand interactivity in exchange for our attention, and magazine publishers would be well advised to take note of this.