May 23, 2014 Last Updated 9:53 am

Postmedia Network learns the hard lesson of tablet editions: being on the cutting edge means learning to duck

Early reader reviews and media columns give confusing, contradictory feedback to the newspapers’s publisher and development team that created new strategy

This week Postmedia Network, the Canadian publisher of The National Post and other newspapers, released a new tablet edition for the Ottawa Citizen. Released as part of its four-platform strategy, the Newsstand app is an afternoon edition, meant for leisure-time reading when the work day is done and reading anything on a laptop or desktop computer would feel like drudgery.

OC-iPad-042214The new tablet edition is not meant to be simply an extension of the print newspaper, or an extension of the website, but a new product that uses the resources of the Ottawa Citizen newsroom to create something new. Not surprisingly, some of the reaction to the new tablet edition has been confused, as digital-firsters, who are actually web-firsters, find the approach odd.

But, as I mentioned earlier this week, the approach is not new, having been tried by the old regime at the Orange County Register before being killed by its new owners. It is also the result of what reader research seemed to reveal: that reading habits change during the course of the day.

The problem is that as tablets enter the workplace the needs of readers may continue to change. But the Ottawa Citizen also launched a new web strategy, and if readers want instant news during the course of the work day their needs will be addressed with both the new website and the new mobile app.

One would like to think that readers and critics** would get what the newspaper is trying to do, but that is asking far too much of many. Early columns on the new app appear to have been written without ever opening up the app itself and downloading an issue. This is, sad to report, fairly common among media reporters – creating screenshots is apparently hard work.

Earlier reader reviews are confused, as well. Of the 28 ratings in the Canadian App Store, readers are evenly split between loving the app and hating it. Many of the reviews may have been written before the first issue appeared inside the app as they talk about the promotional feature that explains the strategy rather than the first digital issue that appeared later that afternoon. The two reviews that came later were written by readers clearly looking for a replica edition (which the paper actually also offers in a separate e-edition app).

It has to be terribly frustrating for digital publishing professionals that go through the hard work of doing research, familiarizing themselves with the best tablet editions, and then launch what they think is appropriate.

OC-iPad-feature-0422Luckily for the development team, Apple is promoting the app in the Canadian App Store in both the News category (where it leads the “Best New Apps”) and the Newsstand (where it is the first app seen in the top carousel). This should guarantee enough downloads to settle nerves rattled by those early reviews.

Postmedia Network sounds like it wants to roll out this strategy among its other papers, but chose the Ottawa Citizen to be the guinea pig.

“The good news is that we’re first. The bad news is that we’re first,” publisher and editor Gerry Nott told Citizen employees.

I’m sure there will be a lot of naysayers inside those other Postmedia newspapers (just as there was when newspaper chains launched their first websites). The reason is simple: it is not the print newspaper and it is not the website. Few criticized the first mobile apps produced because they were not, in fact, anything new. They were, and are, simply RSS feed readers – a nonthreatening extension of what is already being done. This new tablet edition, however, is not replicating the web or print or mobile.

My advice: give it time, keep costs under control, and duck when someone starts swinging their swords. It’s tough being out front.

** As these web-only media sites will not link to TNM, under any circumstances, linking back to their site would be encouraging their behavior. Which is ironic considering that one of their biggest beefs with traditional media is that they don’t link.

If you missed it, here is the walk-through video of the first edition found inside the new tablet app:

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