Magazine Apps: We’ve Turned the Page

“Magazine apps are dead!” A quick, Google search might have you believing the digitally-enhanced versions of our favorite publishers are useless, overrated, expensive and as irrelevant as their print predecessor. In fairness, this was pretty true. In 2012.

The introduction of mobile devices – and the host of apps that came with them – was a beacon of light to a flailing magazine industry, fighting the rapid communication conversion of print to digital. Millions of dollars were invested to reboot readership and redefine magazines. Ultimately, the luminous mirage of subscriptions turned out to be a deep, dark hole filled with disappointed readers and users.

The rest is unfortunate history, but there were a few downfalls worth highlighting.

  1. Development was expensive. iPad apps were largely written in a language called Objective C. Most web developers only knew HTML, CSS and JavaScript, which meant companies had to outsource development at the expense of time and money.
  2. Design was stifling. Users were expecting the magazine pages to live and link the way webpages do. But they didn’t. These “walled gardens” were essentially glorified PDFs. The lack of innovation and functionality was underwhelming.
  3. Adaptation was inefficient. In addition to the ratio challenges of viewing a device horizontally or vertically, various screen sizes across multiple devices forced many publishers to produce six different versions of every editorial product.

By 2014, users were deleting magazine apps one little x after another. Before long, publishers began scaling back their investments and simplifying their lineup. The boom and the bust were over. Or so we thought.

In the same way $3,000 plasma TVs are now $300 LED TVs, advances in technology have a rapid way of transforming industries. Magazine apps are no exception.

  1. Mobile-first approach. One of the most short-sighted failures of previous apps were publishers were trying to convert a print magazine into a digital format. By conceiving and designing content on the right platform, the opportunities and advantages are endless.
  2. Today’s app-based world. There used to be a popular expression, “There’s an app for that.” Today, there are lots of apps for that. Multiple apps are competing to provide users the same service. For magazines, it’s an admission that in order for your publication to compete, you need an app, and a great one at that.
  3. Magazine magic. High-definition videos, retina-display photos, real-time updates, curated content and personalized customization are just a few of the beautiful improvements to the magazine app user experience.

Some people will argue mobile websites can accomplish much of the same, so do magazine publications really need an app? Ultimately, it comes down to three things: user experience, data and customization.

When readers engage with a mobile version of a magazine’s website, the user experience will most likely be similar to another magazine’s mobile site, or even a cooking mobile site for that matter. An app allows developers to create any type of experience they want, differentiating their magazine in a unique and memorable way.

App analytics allows marketers to understand their users in a much more holistic sense. Unlike mobile websites, an app can provide true data to help capture individual sessions – the journeys – to help identify strengths and weaknesses in an effort to drive engagement. It incorporates a high level of personalization and humanization to keep readers happy.

Customization ensures readers are presented with news and articles that are relevant and enjoyable. It’s this type of tailoring that cannot be recreated in a mobile website environment.

Finally, if a publication is ready to take the next step (or LEAP), it’s critical they find the right partner. As an agency with over 15 years of digital experience, we’d like to believe it could be us.

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