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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Filed Under: apps, ipad, magazines

Reader Comments

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  1. icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 12 Nov 2010 @ 6:50pm

    Well, yeah

    I can't even comment on these sort of apps b/c I avoided them: I assumed they'd just make life difficult.

    Promise me its as open as an HTML page, and I'll pay attention.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    fogbugzd (profile), 12 Nov 2010 @ 7:23pm


    I think the problem with the magazine and a lot of other apps is that they are base on a consumption model rather than a participation model. The model is that the newspaper puts out the information and the consumer buys it.

    I don't think that is what young consumers want. Young consumers want applications that let them participate, not just consume. Older customers might be more interested in pure consumption, but that kind of model isn't going to appeal to young people. The first real break-out magazine type of app will be the one that figures out how to draw people in, allow them to contribute, and build a community.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Miso Susanowa, 12 Nov 2010 @ 8:16pm

    The Medium Is The Message

    Yes, it's an old saw, but re-echoed in todays parlance: "content is advertising; advertising is content."

    Perfectly pointed out, the difference between a broadcast medium and a communications medium. People trying to make automobiles like trains aren't going to get too far, and miss the strength of the automobile (best car analogy I can think of right now :D

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    out_of_the_blue, 12 Nov 2010 @ 8:29pm

    If I interpret "map to a tired pattern of mass media brands"

    correctly (what an obscured phrase!), problem is advertising gets in the way of what (little) there is of interest. I don't see how advertising is going to be tolerated *when it's avoidable*. That's now the fundamental challenge to *all* media: advertising can be skipped with minimal savvy.

    In my view, almost no magazine format survives, not even by specialized apps with practically unlimited interactions, because of lack of advertising income. But perhaps I'm just being optimistic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Bob Bunderfeld (profile), 12 Nov 2010 @ 9:24pm

    iPad Magazine Faults

    Let's be clear, it's not the iPad that is at fault here. I agree that too many of the US based Magazines would rather have a single application that points to their pretty magazine and not deliver a true Digital Magazine, but some over-blown over-hyped POS.

    I particularly enjoy the ZINIO application and find that the Magazine Subscriptions that I have through the App are quite enjoyable. One thing I like is that Zinio not only offers US Magazines, but Magazines from all over the Globe. Sure, at the moment there are some Magazines that aren't offered through Zinio, but that's not Zinio's fault, again, it's the Publisher who for some reason wants to deliver a bloated POS that isn't worth the paper it's printed on, or is that the Packets that it's built with now?

    I hope that in the near future, Magazine Publishers just offer a straight up Digital Copy of their work, instead of trying to make something so over-the-top that it becomes a pain in the butt to view or use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    btrussell (profile), 13 Nov 2010 @ 3:06am

    Re: Consumption-oriented

    Good summary

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    btrussell (profile), 13 Nov 2010 @ 3:20am

    iDon't have an iPod, iPad or iAnything, nor do iIntendto. So iDon't know the pricing of these apps/mags, but iWould bet that it is closer to print price than actual digital distribution price.

    That, to me, is a turn off. Since it has been preached forever that the high cost of "stuff/crap" is due to the material/distribution costs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Riza, 13 Nov 2010 @ 4:38am

    Most of these mags actually cost more than the retail price which is a big turn off, especially when you can get great apps like Slate Magazine and NPR for little to nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Matthew (profile), 13 Nov 2010 @ 6:36am


    Mantras for content producers and developers...

    It's the browser stupid.

    The browser is the new OS.

    Apps are easily monetized and controlled, but the bread and butter of smartphones and tablets is the robust mobile web browser. Bonus: Your shit works with regular, old, boring computers too!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Adam Bell (profile), 13 Nov 2010 @ 7:01am

    I find that increasingly, I hardly browse at all; I'm a confirmed RSS reader. That means that I don't spend much time on any one site which is fundamentally what iPad magazines expect you to do. I don't want to be nailed to a single source any more; I want to hop around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, 13 Nov 2010 @ 9:18am

    More trivia

    Neither surprising or important.
    Couldn't we have a "trivia" flag on stuff like this, that would let us fast-forward?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Marty McPadden, 13 Nov 2010 @ 10:40am

    Zinio is a good app

    I agree with Bob a few comments above regarding Zinio. I have replaced the few paper magazine subscriptions I have with Zinio versions. Although it's just a basic representation of the printed versions, I like not having to deal with all that paper and you can easily zoom in on the page for easy viewing and reading.

    The potential is there for publishers to offer truly compelling reading and viewing experiences when they decide to fully embrace the digital platform. Hopefully that will be soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Karl (profile), 13 Nov 2010 @ 1:38pm

    Re: Consumption-oriented

    Young consumers want applications that let them participate, not just consume.

    Bingo. There's a reason it's called an "application." Computer applications are meant to be used, not stared at.

    The only thing I disagree with is the "young consumers" bit. I see it as more of a "disposable income" division. That is: if you don't have a lot of money, what you buy has damn well better satisfy you. You're not going to buy a $1000 device just for reading magazines. And that seems to be what publishers think the iPad (&etc) is supposed to be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2010 @ 4:31pm

    It's articles such as this that make me want to slit my wrists.

    Great news, Mike. Google will have their Tablet soon so once that's out, you can change positions!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2010 @ 6:17pm

    Completely agree.

    Web2.0 was all about putting user content online for all to see-- meaning every meaningless piece of the net had comment boards and mega-interaction with all the social networking sites.

    "cloud computing" was all hyped up on the idea that you don't won't need to install another piece of software as it will all be accessible over the web soon.

    Now with the 'app' wave, it's all reverse. Just about every respectable website has its own downloadable piece of software which presents a modified form of the standard html version of the site, sometimes for offline access. However, ever since the late 90s we've been trying to get everything persistently, constantly connected. Always-on software and hardware, broadband everywhere. The idea of having multitudes of disjoint pieces of software that are really nothing more than memory-hogging bookmarks is incompatible with the philosophy of broadband.

    Needless. The iApp phase is just that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    DL, 14 Nov 2010 @ 1:36am

    We call the new structure a storycube (vs. A Storyline). We have been taking some from transmedia game dev & social media teamed with experimenting in hypervideo structures to create a new medium

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    DL, 14 Nov 2010 @ 1:36am

    We call the new structure a storycube (vs. A Storyline). We have been taking some from transmedia game dev & social media teamed with experimenting in hypervideo structures to create a new medium

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, 15 Nov 2010 @ 1:41am

    Going Backwards

    We already have the Web. We’ve had publications on that going back 15 years or more. Yet here some people are, trying to reinvent paper again. And failing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    nasch (profile), 15 Nov 2010 @ 8:46am


    Short version: telling a good story (telling a story well?) is important. This is obvious, but what does it have to do with the article?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    DanBecker (profile), 15 Nov 2010 @ 3:42pm

    My point simply is that there are fundamentals of traditional media that are still true in new media. In particular, I mean the linear story and the experience it creates must still be preserved with new media. Despite all the non-linear and interactive possibilities that new media can provide magazine publishing (i.e. magazine apps that build in more interactivity, or are hyperlinked segments to everything on the internet, these new features of the medium can actually detract from the core value the audiences desire.

    So while some in this thread are criticizing magazine app publishers or ipad for not using the ether to its full potential, I suggest that most of these professional publishers are actually preserving what they know has been tried and true: the linear story. It means they can enhance the story with interactivity and hyperlinked access, but not to the point that is a distraction or an interruption to the linear story. The initial wave of magazine apps have been an excellent effort.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    nasch (profile), 15 Nov 2010 @ 4:13pm


    I guess the subscription numbers will bear out one side or the other.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Chris Ridley, 17 Nov 2010 @ 4:07pm

    I'm now a convert to iPad Magazines!

    I didn't like iPad magazines to start with, then a few months later I was trying to find a back issue of a magazine I regularly had in print, and the only way to get it was in digital form.. then after that I was hooked! I've been buying and downloading iPad magazines from here if anyone is interested: http://www.finddigitalmagazines.co.uk Thanks, Chris

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    GR, 16 Dec 2010 @ 1:39am

    ipad jailbreak

    You can find more information about ipad jailbreak with Spirit (Windows)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2011 @ 5:23pm

    I agree that the linear story telling has the possibility to capture the imaginations of the readers and really pull some one in. We WANT to be captivated, to the point where we can hardly pull ourselves away. That's what a good book is all about. The web is full of half hazard attempts at story telling but they fall short in incomplete jumps and starts--the web being built on short attention span. So, the chance to redeem attention spans may be here in the digital realm, but only with quality engaging story tellers. I think the right formula is being discovered through all these mistakes. The iPad among other mediums will have it's place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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