October 24, 2014 Last Updated 2:32 pm

First look(s): Montreal Gazette’s new afternoon digital edition; Bonnier updates American Photo

Also: a few quick thoughts about those negative iTunes reader reviews, and what they say – and don’t say – about the quality of a publisher’s digital editions

The first editions of the afternoon digital edition of the Montreal Gazette have appeared inside the new Apple Newsstand app. The app, Montreal Gazette for iPad, was released earlier this week, and now new editions appear inside the app by 6pm, Monday through Friday.

MontrealGazette-iPadThe new digital edition uses the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite to produce its digital editions. Designed in landscape, the reading experience is intentional different from that of a digital newspaper – in recognition that readers want a different reading experience in the afternoon, on a digital device, than in a printed morning newspaper, a mobile app, or on the web.

The new iPad edition is part of the publisher’s Postmedia Reimagined efforts, as the Canadian newspaper company effort to rethink its product in print and digital, and on multiple digital devices. The next paper to get “remained” will be the Calgary Herald, set to relaunch in November.

The new afternoon digital edition is currently free to access thanks to a single sponsor arrangement. This will encourage readers to download the app and begin getting into the habit of reading the tabloid edition each afternoon.

The U.S. division of Bonnier has been moving its magazine apps off of the digital publishing platform it developed itself, Mag+, onto the Adobe DPS. The latest magazine to be updated is American Photo. The previous iOS app was called American Photo+ – signifying both that it was on the Mag+ platform and that the digital edition was designed for digital.

AmerPhoto-iPadThe old app received more than its share of negative reviews. Right from the beginning readers complained that they were forced to buy the digital edition even if they were print subscribers. Last year the app was savaged because of troubles readers had with accessing issues due to problems with the subscription process. None of the complaints, when you think about it, had anything to do with the actual digital editions.

Now, the digital version of the magazine is a plain jane PDF. Like with many replica editions, the digital edition is now a bit harder to read, though the introduction of retina displays on iPads helps somewhat. The app, though, is universal (for some reason) and so reading the magazines on the iPhone is virtually impossible.

AmPhoto-blowupOne can argue the merits of native versus replica all day, but with this new app the thing that is sacrificed is the element that is most important: the quality of the photography.

By creating a PDF edition without the ability to view the photographs any way other than pinch-to-zoom, the publisher has defeated the purpose of producing a digital edition in the first place. But worse, it puts the magazine at a distinct disadvantage compared to its digital competitors. The photography category is filled with many very good digital magazines including the digital-only Photography Week.

The new digital edition also does not address the magazine’s readership issues. In 2012, American Photo had a circulation of 138,476, with just over 6 percent of that being digital. It sold, at that time, 6,731 single copy print editions. One year later its circulation was 126,865, but its digital editions had climbed to over 12,000. In the magazine’s latest publisher’s statement, circulation is at 101,322 – kept over the 100K mark by adding 2,164 in “verified subscriptions”. Digital subscriptions are now over 10 percent of the total, but actually fell to 10,761. Single copy print sales are now half what they were in 2012, 3,305.

One of the great things about the app stores is that readers get a chance to comment on the apps they download. Publishers get instant feedback through both ratings and comments.

But when looking at Newsstand apps, it is important to see that the vast majority of reader comments don’t actually have anything to do with the actual digital editions. Most reader complaints center pricing policies (Hearst gets many complaints about double charging), subscription mechanisms that fail to recognize a reader’s print subscription, digital issues that disappear (often when an app is updated), or crashes and other bugs.

Many of the very best digital magazines available get negative reader reviews for reasons other than the design of the digital magazines found inside the app. It is too easy to conclude that the publisher’s digital strategy is faulty due a plethora of negative comments. (The most common complaint about Newsstand apps is that the app itself is free, but the publications inside charge – strange that some readers still don’t understand the basic concept of the Newsstand.)

Additionally, many digital publications appear to be losing subscriptions due to Apple’s Newsstand mechanism. Readers who sign up for a monthly subscription are hard to keep with Apple is constantly reminding them that they could cancel at any time. No one would dream of offering a discounted print subscription on a monthly basis, with the publisher sending out a letter every month reminding the reader that they can cancel.

The monthly subscription option is a great way to attract new readers. But it is not proving a good strategy in the long run. Yet if a publisher launches the app with that option, changing their pricing is tricky – any monthly subscribers are lost of the publisher wants to eliminate that pricing level. It may be a better strategy to discount those single issues a bit – charge $2.99 rather than $4.99 – and then offer 6 and 12 month subscriptions. By now everyone knows the cheapest way to buy a digital magazine is to sign up for the month subscription, download the issue desired, then immediately cancel the subscription.

  • Tablazines 3 years ago

    Can you explain to me why Bonnier is moving from Mag+ to Adobe?

    • D.B. Hebbard 3 years ago

      To be clear, only the US Bonnier publications are moving to the Adobe DPS.

      I’m sure it has something to do with “uniformity”, but who knows.

      Bonnier’s (US) choice to go with replicas for Saveur and other titles is a far more bizarre decision to me than going to Adobe DPS, which is at least the leading platform in the industry.

      After 30+ years in publishing, working with major publishers, I try not to think too much about why media executives do what they do. It’ll give you headaches.

      • Tablazines 3 years ago

        Lol. I thought Mag+ was actually pretty cool and if the cost to use it was lower I would have.

        How can you promote and sell a solution that you don’t use yourself? Even if is only not used in the US. The whole thing just seems really weird.