February 2, 2016 Last Updated 1:41 pm

Odds and ends: Apple event on the Ides of March; selling digital to print readers, and vice versa

Apple sets date for event where it will likely launch an updated iPad Air, a smaller iPhone and other products, but not introduce major changes to the App Store or iTunes

The Apple event in March is set, announced by John Paczkowski of BuzzFeed as March 15, the Ides of March as he correctly points out (coincidentally, I’m reading this book at Julius Caesar has just been offed in chapter seven).

iPad-flippedPaczkowski expects Apple to launch a new version of the iPad Air, a variation of the 4-inch iPhone 5, and new Apple Watch bands.

That doesn’t sound very exciting: an upgraded device, a downgraded device, and a dressed up device. No doubt the tech press will lap it up anyways, but this doesn’t sound like a reason to hold an event when a simple press release will do. Of course, Apple doesn’t do press, just leaks to trusted scribes, so I guess they will need to do an event, though it said they will hold it on campus rather than in San Francisco.

One could once again complain about how poorly Apple’s press team deals with the media outside of small circle of contacts, but it now doesn’t matter. With Google passing by Apple in value, and with the maker of the iPhone faced with the possibility that next quarter it will report poor revenue and earnings, the company will find it needs a different kind of media team, one whose mission is to communicate information rather than suppress it.

So, if I’m pretty underwhelmed with the prospect of what Apple might talk about in March, what would I prefer?

I think this blog post by developer Marco Arment points to it. Arment, who was the developer of Instapaper and the publisher of the digital magazine The Magazine, talks about the problem of what happens to old apps that go to die. That is, that remain in the App Store despite the fact that they no longer are being supported.

Apple App Store subcategory“In the flush early days, Apple could release a new screen size or entire platform (like the original iPad), and developers rushed to support it as quickly as possible because we knew we’d probably see a return,” Arment writes.

“Today, Apple’s shipping new platforms and screen sizes like they’re going out of style, but so many apps are rotting in disrepair that very few developers are adopting them. The Apple Watch and Apple TV have relatively few apps and almost none that are great (on the Watch, maybe even none), and only a tiny subset of iPad apps support multitasking or the iPad Pro.”

For a long time Apple used to brag that it has so many, so many more apps than the Android ecosystem. But that is no longer true, but even if it was it would not be a sign of superiority, but of clutter. The App Store is a mess, much of it unmaintained, with a broken search mechanism and a poor design. It is just as we first saw it years ago, only broken,

“Apple needs a healthy developer ecosystem now, more than ever,” Arment says, “as customers clamor for their new platforms to have more and better software — but now they’re paying for their own neglect of healthy App Store economics and tense developer relations for so long.”

He is right, and if Apple spent its March event only talking about iTunes and the App Store it would be fine with me. This is unlikely to happen, of course. But WWDC in June will be the next chance – and, I admit, probably the right place for such a conversation.

We still can’t seem to get passed the issue of print versus digital, can we?

Today, I had a conversation with a former colleague about selling digital books and magazines and, no surprise to me, he said with a sigh that he just felt he preferred print. In the past I might of answered him with the usual argument that there were good reasons to prefer print, but that there were also good reasons to move to digital products, etc. etc.

But instead, almost out of desperation, I blurted out “what does it matter? You shouldn’t be selling digital products to print readers anyway, you sell them to digital readers. The only question is whether you want to sell to digital readers.”

The point was that for many print publishers the goal seems to be to sell a new digital product to the same people they previously sold print. No wonder then that when they create these products that they make sure they replicate print as much as possible. “Our readers tell us they want their digital products to look like print” is the usual claim. That’s true, but who are you asking? Print readers, no doubt.

I’ve stopped going to industry events because I find them uninformative and their programs silly. But when I went on a regular basis I used to ask those at the lunch whether they owned a tablet and if they read digital magazines on their device. The answer was usually mixed concerning tablet ownership, but always “No” concerning their own reading habits. They preferred print, the leaders of the industry would tell me. Nonetheless, they were still going to launch digital editions, taking on the task personally.

This led me to believe that these new digital editions would not be something I would want to read. I like digital (I like print, too), but I couldn’t imagine buying a digital edition produced by someone who didn’t like digital editions, didn’t read them themselves, and certainly didn’t want to invest much time or effort in their creation.

Just as publishers should target the right product (print or digital) to the right reader (print or digital), they should also assign the task the publishing professional most skilled and enthusiastic about the mission. This rarely happens. I know that when I worked at a B2B magazine company, the task of who should be responsible for creating the new websites did not fall on the most knowledgeable and experienced at the task (that would have been me, of course) but on the person who simply needed a new assignment. (You over there, not doing anything? Build our digital publishing business!)

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