December 23, 2013 Last Updated 10:14 am

Offline Magazine launches and instantly gets love from the Apple App Store team

Unknown new iPhone/iPad magazine gets promotion in News category

Everyone knows that for any new digital-only magazine the best hope for success is getting Apple to promote your new title within the Newsstand, or throughout the App Store. But increasingly independent publishers are coming to the conclusion that the game is rigged. This is an understandable conclusion, as a look throughout iTunes will reveal the usual big titles, along with a small group of popular independent titles such as TRVL, The Look and The Magazine. These digital magazines get promoted week in and week out and so it is no wonder they end up on the best seller list.

When you look under News inside the Newsstand you see the usual titles there: TIME Magazine, The Economist, Newsweek (yes, inside Apple ecosystem the magazine is doing fine), The New York Times, The Guardian, etc.

So when, among the other 30 titles – all recognizable brands – one finds a brand new app, it certainly gets your attention.

Offline Magazine is currently being promoted on the front page of the Newsstand under News, and also in the News category in the App Store.

While it is certainly good to see a new title break through Apple’s system one has to wonder why this title is getting promotion from Apple. I had never heard to the news organization so I immediately checked online and found only a website promoting the app, no news.

A look at the Offline team lists some team members, but only the designer and two co-founders have their picture shown, not the editor. The editor, Jordan Porter, gets no bio, and a check online revealed little.

Offline-iPad-columnAs for the app, it is similar to some of the other new minimalist apps out there: Straight text stories without only in-line pictures. The design works better on an iPhone than an iPad. I subscribed to the app to check out the articles but the app would not let me access the stories even after subscribing. But once I shutdown the app and reopened it all was well.

What I didn’t find was any news. Instead, the new digital magazine concentrates on feature stories.

“Each issue offers readers a carefully crafted blend of culture, comedy, and opinion presented in a beautifully ad-free environment. It’s five articles each month, an hour’s worth of content you can feel good about consuming,” reads the column from co-founders Tom Sith and Brad Flaugher.

So who are these two co-founders – they certainly look too young to have come from a newspaper or magazine background. Brad Flaugher’s LinkedIn profile says he is an options trader at Walleye Trading in Minneapolis, in addition to listing Offline.

Tom Smith, on the other hand, lists Offline then under previous employment lists Apple. That’s when your heart sinks. Is that why this new app is getting all that attention from Apple?

I might feel better about all this were the app placed elsewhere, anywhere other than News. I know what news is, and this isn’t it. It’s a collection of fairly lightweight feature stories designed to entertain, not something to help the reader understand events in the world around them. But there it is, along side The Times of London, The Boston Globe and the Houston Chronicle.

It is possible that this is all about who you know. Listed as design consultant is Khoi Vinh, the former design director for The New York Times, but since there is really very little design here, it is doubtful he had much of a hand in the app.

Apple’s App Store is starting to feel like a fraternity: know the secret handshake and you’re in. Whether that mentality explains why Offline Magazine is getting promotion by Apple is impossible to tell – I see no obvious connections beyond the mention of Apple. But Offline Magazine is not a news product, that much I know. If it appeared in Lifestyle of under any other category inside the Newsstand I might have assumed someone at Apple loves these minimally designed digital editions.

I guess those of us who are, or have been, in what could traditionally be considered the news business will just have to get used to the idea that Apple gets to determine what is news and what isn’t – at least within its ecosystem.