Guest column: Lessons learnt from my App Publisher detour
The publisher of App Publisher, Paul Blake, has announced his decision to shutter his digital-only magazine after 18 month of publishing. TNM had, late last year, entered into a content partnership with the magazine which, sadly, lasted only two issues. Blake here explains his motivation behind launching, and eventually shuttering, App Publisher.
App Publisher magazine was always a detour on a larger journey for me and, like the best detours, it has taken me and my views on digital publishing to new, unexpected places.
I started the magazine almost accidentally. When I came to research launching a digital magazine about the county in the UK I’d just moved to, I couldn’t find any coherent, practical advice on how to approach the task. As I’d written in the past about digital publishing, a magazine with a particular emphasis on publishing content onto apps and mobile felt like it might be a worthwhile endeavor and might also find a small but appreciative paying audience.
Eighteen months later I can say that App Publisher did find a small but appreciative paying audience, but it just wasn’t big enough to justify all the time and effort involved in putting the magazine together.
It is always tempting to draw parallels between your individual experiences and that of the industry you work in. I think in the case of App Publisher some of the failures are very individual to the magazine, such as the subject matter being too niche to gain a decent size audience and the content being not quite compelling enough, despite my best efforts, for readers to commit to paying for it.
- The Newsstand model is all but dead. When I started App Publisher I (mistakenly) believed I was launching into the early stages of what could become an exciting, viable new platform for publishers – the newsstands created by Apple and Google. I now believe the newsstand model is all but dead. Part of the reason is the lack of interest and focus by Apple and Google, but that hides a more fundamental truth – in an age of immediate access to content, the newsstand creates too many barriers for readers, demands too much effort, and delivers too poor an experience for readers to come back time and time again. It’s simply too difficult, clunky and awkward. Today I wouldn’t recommend anyone launching a publication into one of the newsstands. You won’t pick up readers browsing the newsstands (Apple and Google have made that more or less impossible), so your readers will come from your existing readership choosing a different way of accessing your content. Do yourself and your readers a favour and don’t hide your app’s icon under a folder. Make it as prominent as you can.
- It’s all about multichannel content. Readers demand choice. Some prefer paper, some prefer digital but many are now medium agnostic. At times they will want to consume your content on a mobile, at times on a tablet, in other circumstances when they are in front of a computer or in paper form. The job of the publisher is simple. Allow your readers to access your content in any way they choose and give them a great experience on each of the channels they choose to consume that content on. A great experience on paper, needs to be translated to an equally great experience on smartphone, tablet or web. Do it right and readers will fall in love with your content all over again. Do it badly and you’ll begin to look like dinosaurs, whose time has passed. In the case of App Publisher, the magazine didn’t exist on enough channels – just smartphone and tablet – cutting off important, potential readers who prefer to access content in different ways.
- Content has to be native to the medium it is consumed on. Don’t compromise customer experience for operational convenience. It is very easy to think a PDF of your magazine is good enough to push onto tablet or mobile because it is so easy to do. However, it makes no sense if you believe that digital channels are part of your future. Why build a great experience in the print channel and then a shoddy, clumsy one in the potentially strategically important digital channels? To do so, undermines your brand and your creditability with readers. One of the things I believe I got right with App Publisher was to publish content that worked natively on my two chosen channels – phone and tablet. Truly it wasn’t that difficult to do, so I’m always surprised by how many publishers balk at doing it.
- The concept of a ‘magazine’ may just not work digitally. As someone who has bought magazines most of my life and who has spent a fair amount of my professional life creating them, this one pains me to write. However, I’m just no longer sure bundling together sets of thematic content into a wrapper called a magazine works digitally. I suspect the world for readers is becoming too fluid and open for that. I do think there is a place for great branded content and also for the role magazine editors have played in commissioning and curating that content – however, we may need to disrupt our core businesses to find the best way of doing that. That takes a lot of bravery and carries not inconsiderable risk. It may, however, be the only option that publishers have available to them.
Those are the big lessons I’ve learnt from creating and publishing App Publisher. There are many smaller ones as well, especially around how to structure and manage content that works across multiple channels – but I’ll leave that for another piece and another day.
All in all, publishing App Publisher has been a great, fulfilling experience and a lot of fun. Creating original, unique content always is, irrespective of whether it is read by ten people, a thousand or tens of thousands. However, I’m now ready to bring to an end this particular detour and to look forward to the larger journey ahead. Thanks to everyone who supported App Publisher by subscribing to the magazine or buying an issue. It was truly a joy to create content that justified you making that commitment.
Paul Blake has pulled the Google Play app (no one was subscribing through it anyways) and now App Publisher is only available – free of charge – through the Apple Newsstand app.