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5 Problems with Your Decision to Make a Magazine App

Smartphones and tablets have had an effect on every industry. We know this much is true. Brands, ecommerce merchants, service providers, publishers and the agencies that serve them are all trying to navigate this landscape and create and deliver their content in the best possible experience to their mobile audience. The multitude of device types, screen sizes and unpredictable acceptable formats are putting a strain on design teams and budgets as they scramble to extend the reach of their content to the areas in which their readers want to consume it.

A majority of publishers are solving the problem by designing and delivering their magazine via a mobile app. I see a number of challenges they will face with this decision. Here are 5 problems with your decision to make a magazine app:


Problem 1: Your Magazine Just Cannot Compete with Angry Birds

One of the first things I did when I got my iPhone was download this Angry Birds game that I have been hearing so much about. Needless to say, I am hooked and no matter how loyal I am to my favorite magazines, if my choice were to download Angry Birds or a publication in the iTunes store, Angry Birds wins every time.

This is a problem for publishers building apps to serve their mobile readers. They are competing with apps like Angry Birds and Flipboard because the store does not offer a magazine category.

Problem 2: The Online Version Requires a Different Design Consideration

A major problem for magazine publishers when it comes to reaching their mobile audience is the design and execution. Forget about app vs. browser-based for now and lets think about the experience of an offline publication vs. an online one. The design needs to be thought about in a different way. Considerations like the size of font and the use of rich media like flash and video need to be thought out and incorporated when designing an online magazine.

Its just not as simple as taking the print edition and replicating it online to serve mobile readers. So now magazine design teams have to create at least 2 copies of their magazine for each issue. This is an enormous strain in resources and some teams are logging hours on the weekends to meet deadlines.

Problem 3: Screen Size, Resolution and Devices

As we just discussed in problem 2, magazines will need to produce at least 2 copies of their publication; 1 for mobile or online readers and 1 for print. That’s at least 2 but I would argue that its almost never 2. Let’s start thinking about the different screen sizes from laptops to desktops to tablets to smartphones that we need to design the magazine for. How about the resolution on each of those?

I have seen a lot of magazines building their publication into an app. This seems to be the most common way to reach their readers – on mobile anyways. Are they not serving online readers who wish to browse via desktop? What is the consideration for whether you are designing an app for the iTunes store or for Android? Choose 1 over another and you may limit the audience you can reach. Choose more than one or all and now the number of magazines we need to make is going up considerably.

Problem 4: The Manufacturer Controls Who Can Do What and How on Their Device, Not You

As Conde Nast discovered while building their magazine for the iPad, the manufacturer can change the ‘rules’ at any time. A project that took months to conceive, build and execute on was tipped on its side when Apple decided not to support Flash on the iPad. How do you know what they are going to do next and what’s your game plan to ensure your app will even work under the new ‘rules’?

Problem 5: Some of Your Readers are Commitment-Phobes

By creating and delivering your magazine as an app to readers, you are potentially losing people that may buy one issue or read one article but don’t necessarily want the commitment to download an app that lives on their device. The real estate on a person’s tablet or smart phone is precious and the consideration for whether we decide to download or move on is thought driven. We don’t just add anything and everything to our devices.

I am not sure why magazines are convinced that they need an app to reach their readers, or why any brand for that matter is so gung-ho on the idea of an app. I am even more perplexed by the lack of consideration for a browser-based solution that delivers the linear look and feel of the traditional print magazine, yet works across all devices.

So, why are magazines building these apps?


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