by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
apps, ipad, magazines

Why iPad Magazine Apps Suck: They're Defined By The Past, Not The Future

from the paperless-magazines dept

Earlier this year, we suggested that the media industy's infatuation with the iPad as some sort of savior was going to result in serious disappointment. Part of the reason was that the media industry was salivating over the false belief that it could bring back the old "gatekeeper" control that it used to have, and which its old business model was built from. And, indeed, the early results of iPad magazines aren't particularly promising. Now, it's still quite early, and two things are likely to happen: tablet computers (and better smartphones) will become more popular and publishers will become smarter about these things over time. So I wouldn't read too much into the success/failure numbers at this stage.

However, I tend to agree with this analysis by Khoi Vinh that suggests a major problem is that magazine publishers are focused on building apps that are too much like "magazines," which is not how people want to use their mobile devices:
My opinion about iPad-based magazines is that they run counter to how people use tablets today and, unless something changes, will remain at odds with the way people will use tablets as the medium matures. They're bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all.

The fact of the matter is that the mode of reading that a magazine represents is a mode that people are decreasingly interested in, that is making less and less sense as we forge further into this century, and that makes almost no sense on a tablet. As usual, these publishers require users to dive into environments that only negligibly acknowledge the world outside of their brand, if at all -- a problem that's abetted and exacerbated by the full-screen, single-window posture of all iPad software. In a media world that looks increasingly like the busy downtown heart of a city -- with innumerable activities, events and alternative sources of distraction around you -- these apps demand that you confine yourself to a remote, suburban cul-de-sac.
To be honest, this isn't that surprising. The problem, as with almost all new media technologies is that those who came from the earlier media worlds try to define the new world in terms of the old. It's why original TV programs simply tried to replicate radio programs, until people realized that you could do something quite different in a visual medium. It's why many media companies still look at the internet as a broadcast medium designed for delivering its content to the masses -- rather than recognizing that the real power is in its use as a communications platform.

Eventually they'll adjust and figure it out (or, if they don't, go out of business). And then the solutions that work won't be "magazines as an app," but services that really make use of what these devices enable: communication and content on the go.

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    DanBecker (profile), 14 Nov 2010 @ 11:37pm

    I couldn’t disagree more with most of these posts. For all those looking from a technology POV at the convergence of technology and communications, I suggest looking beyond the echo chamber that you may be surrounded in. Consider that most of these “large evil media / communication empires” that are operating today have survived a century plus of new mediums / distribution channels / and cultural trends / and economic cycles. Within their institutions seem to linger some wisdom, and a thing or two about the business that you may not appreciate. One lesson many of you might learn is the significance of story. A story is the vehicle that communicates. The story is what transcends our self and connects us. Stories communicate regardless of medium or format. In fiction and non-fiction, across text, to music to, moving picture, the story carries and connects us. -Think about that when you hear talk about the “narrative” of the news cycle, or focus the message of your power point, or consider the complete story from your broadcaster and journalist, and describe the plot of that great movie and book, or review the feed on your Facebook page, or simply tell a good joke. Stories move the world, make or break a President, and start and end wars. Why is this important to ipad magazines apps and most of our new media innovations? Because the story is primarily a linear vehicle, and any successful attempt at new media (Ipad magazine apps or other) must work within that linear discipline. The story is linear because we process and store in linear; language is linear, it is a reflection of the simple time-space constraint we all share and are subjects to: i.e. reality. A story is not an aggregation of events that exists separately in time and space connected by hyperlinks. –That is called information. Information can be valuable, mine it all day if you wish, but it’s not effective communication. New media offers so many possibilities to improve the story in all its shape and sizes, but the linear discipline must be respected if it is to be effective. The beauty and irony of story, is that by respecting and working within its linear discipline, the audience transcends reality to a shared experience. That is a place that ip addresses, algorithms, and digital connections can never build. Congratulations to those magazine app publishers who embrace and innovate in the new medium without compromising its fundamentals.

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