Who Killed the Magazine App?

As magazine ad revenue plunges, I still maintain that trying to publish magazines as an imitation of their traditional layouts, but on tablets, is senseless. Along with huge (sometimes up to 400MB each) sizes, and publisher’s frivolous attempts to ‘dress-up’ magazines with media embeds or animations, it doesn’t suit the touch/electronic medium.

The magazine had enjoyed such popularity in the pre-web days because it offered lush and rich layouts, portability and cheapness in a world where information was hard to find. But now, websites and native apps (not to mention RSS aggregators) do the job better, in every single way. That huge capital expense per issue and slow weekly/monthly rollout has been made redundant with instantaneous streams of information.

People want rapid access to relevant and interesting content, and if your pre-packaged mimicry of a paper magazine doesn’t deliver it without being stuffed to the brim with full-page ads and a requirement to constantly zoom in to read the hard-formatted text, then it has failed and another service will fill that gap. That model just doesn’t work anymore. However, there are some magazines which are bucking the trend.

Then, there’s the issue of giving away the product for free. Magazine publishers, seen as having for so long failed to take full advantage of all the Web has to offer, heralded the tablet as a digital do-over of sorts, an opportunity not only to showcase the kind of content they’ve always excelled at via a machine seemingly meant for the medium, but also to persuade consumers that content was worth paying for. And yet with the tablet, as with the Web, the trend has continued toward content that’s gratis—and that practice is accelerating. Ninety-seven percent of iPad Newsstand apps were free to download this year, up from 73 percent in 2011, according to Flurry. (While it’s true that many magazines require a purchase after a free download—Adobe data supplied by MPA show 22 percent of magazine apps are free, with the rest sold as single copies, digital subs and print/digital bundles—few are generating significant money from apps.)

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