Page turners vs fully-interactive

Following today’s new ABC Circulation news, here’s a piece I did for the Media Briefing a few weeks ago…

Apple’s Newsstand for iOS5 was launched in the UK on October 2011, and a number of mainstream consumer magazine publishers have released digital editions of their magazines into this mobile marketplace, part of Apple’s App Store. Future has been a pioneer in this early migration period – of the top 100 highest-grossing Newsstand titles in the UK, there are over 20 Future magazine apps at the time of writing. Significantly, Future has seen an impressive 8.2 million downloads of free preview issues globally since Newsstand launched, underlining the idea that mobile devices are the key growth area for publishers.

Future’s UK no.1 magazine app for technology fans, T3: iPad Edition, created using the innovative Woodwing platform; Tap! for iPad, developed with Future’s in-house Folio software and the beautiful Guitarist Deluxe, alongside Good Food, GQ, National Geographic and Empire have all performed well since launch. These are all fully-interactive, paid for magazines that deliver rich entertainment, with uncomplicated user-navigation, and content designed bespoke for the iPad, that translate into an engaging touch-screen experience. More importantly, they are all priced competitively against the print and replica PDF editions, and all offer digital subscription packages via iTunes.

So, why have only a few publishers gone ‘fully interactive’ so far? The software, training and additional resources required to create a tablet edition, in dual orientation, with rich media content, can make digital publishing a considerable investment.

But the App charts don’t lie – just by looking at Apple’s highest-grossing overall app chart, the only magazine apps regularly appearing in the top 50 iPad apps (therefore shifting decent download numbers) are filled with rich media features and greatly expand on the content offered by the print editions.

Innovative, well-tested and fully-interactive magazines should fare better on Newsstand than replica versions but we know that many iOS users are downloading these replica editions. Total Film, Men’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Glamour and many other PDF editions all regularly appear in the Newsstand charts. Page-turners perform well in many cases because they can also be viewed on the iPhone. Many users prefer the easy navigation, zoom-able pages and legibility. And flat editions provide the closest ‘magazine’ experience as they are generally created with PDFs converted from the print production process – this also allows publishers to further monetise content already created, and avoid the creation costs of a fully-interactive edition.

However, if your users are keen for a richer encounter, the ‘deluxe’ interactive model will achieve stronger consumer traction (the in-app purchase conversion rates are higher than the replica editions) but only if the editorial content isn’t compromised. Readers want to see everything they see in the print edition and more, and looking like the print edition. Maintaining editorial values is key to converting your readers to digital.

With the right development teams integrated into editorial, as well as competitive pricing, marketing and subscription strategies – and the flexibility to adapt to changing times – the lion’s share of fully-interactive editions will succeed in this super-fast-growing market. Replica editions will continue to deliver revenues on this platform (and can also upscale if required). And don’t forget that sales of print magazines remain the number one revenue source for the majority of magazine publishers. However, when there’s a long-term cost-saving – and you factor in that readers are getting better value for their money with a ‘deluxe’ edition on their devices – could it be that the future of digital magazines just has to be fully interactive?

Going fully digital? Here are some pointers…

1. The content: Stick to the magazine’s editorial template. Create extra content for each edition. Imagine your print edition literally ‘coming alive’.

2. Readability: Ensure text is legible, and easy to follow from column to column and screen to screen. Perhaps use scalable text…

3. Development: Try, and learn. Consider an HTML5 reader app instead of the current Adobe and Woodwing solutions. Test and test again! Updates are for fixes and custom enhancements. React to user feedback and provide a good level of customer service.

4. User navigation: Create instinctively intuitive icons. Ensure a consistent level of affordance in the navigation tools – from ‘next page’ arrows, to ‘close’ buttons. Consider the user journey through every page turn.

5. Design: Integrate the font set from the print edition, without sacrificing legibility. Adapt grids and type styles to read better on screen. Consistency and simplicity wins. Bring layouts to life with animations, and use video where possible…

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About tabletdesigner

Mobile Product Consultant and Creative Director, consulting across design agencies, publishers and brands on digital publishing, apps, UX and interactive design. I also train designers how to use Adobe DPS, and inspire new ideas for getting content working on mobile devices...

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