November 17, 2014 Last Updated 1:58 pm

The New York Observer releases replica edition app for weekly print paper into Apple Newsstand

New app offers advanced social network sharing of news stories, but proves a challenging read on an iOS device such as an iPhone or iPad mini

The weekly newspaper The New York Observer has released its first app into the Apple Newsstand, a replica edition that uses the MAZ digital publishing platform. The app, New York Observer, the third app the company has for the iPad: NY Observer is a news app that reformats the paper’s web content, and Betabeat is a tablet news app that covers start-ups and venture capital.

NYO-cover-800The New York Observer was founded in 1987 by Arthur L. Carter, a former investment banker, and has been published by real estate figure Jared Kushner since 2006 (Kushner, currently married to the daughter of Donald Trump, was only 25 at the time). The paper has a circulation of around 50K.

Earlier this year the paper relaunched its website, but I think they are struggling with their digital publishing efforts as the website is not exactly state of the art, so the choice to go with a replica edition app may be seen as a logical move on the part of the paper.

Some replica editions, especially of tabloids, are generally readable on tablets. The Observer, though, is 20 inches by 13 inches in print. My iPad mini, which I loaded the app onto, is 8.25 inches by 4.75 inches (approximately). The app also works for the iPhone, so you get a sense of the challenge of making a replica edition work for iOS devices when the original paper is this size.

The MAZ system has some great social network sharing for articles. But since I could not read the articles it would be hard to know what to share. If the publisher really were to insist on a replica edition, then there needs to be a way to read the articles such as a text version.

NYO-article-800The app itself constantly reminds the reader to use pinch-to-zoom, but even with that I found it hard to get the stories large enough to read comfortably (though pinch-to-zoom worked much better on my iPhone). I then emailed myself a story to see if it would be easier to read on my desktop. The system is called Stream, but the link merely took me to the home page of the Observer’s website rather than directly to the story.

Daily and weekly publications have tough choices to make when deciding how to launch a Newsstand app. This is probably why many newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Guardian, don’t actually have tablet apps for the newspaper, but instead launched apps that reformat the content from their websites. Some, like The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, now have Apple Newsstand apps that offer replica editions but with text versions of the stories hot linked from the replica.

It is more rare to see a completely native daily newspaper app such as La Presse+. But doing this requires a commitment on the part of the newspaper to have a production staff dedicated to the digital edition. As La Presse has said that it visualizes a time when it is digital-only, this is a smart investment. Most other papers are still using their digital readership to help them maintain the rate bases or AAM audit levels rather than imagining their products as digital-only.

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