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Are Flashy iPad Apps What Publishers Really Need?

Adobe (s adbe) may have been stymied at every turn by Apple (s aapl) and its very public hatred of all things Flash, but that hasn’t stopped the company from pushing its vision of interactive publishing for mobile devices like the iPad. Today, Adobe announced a “digital publishing platform” based on its Creative Suites software that it says will allow any magazine publisher to have a snazzy, interactive app just like the one Wired recently introduced (a preview of which is embedded below). But is that really what publishers need as they try to move further into the digital multiplatform world? It’s not clear that it is.

Adobe definitely deserves some credit for finding a way for the Wired app to integrate a lot of cool features without using Flash. Readers can flip through articles with the flick of a finger, scroll through a timeline view of stories, rotate and zoom in on images, and so on. For any publisher whose content involves a lot of imagery — and who wants to appeal to advertisers — these kinds of features are great eye candy. But the big question is whether they’ll convince people to pay for magazine content through an app, rather than just using the web browser on their iPad to consume the same content free of charge. Wired’s app is $4.99, and that’s just for a single issue of the monthly magazine, the same as the print version.

It isn’t just the free vs. paid contrast that publishers have to be concerned about, either. One of the fundamental properties of Flash that many web developers — and web users — instinctively dislike is the fact that it removes much of what makes the web so interactive: namely, the links, the ability to share or remix content, etc. In the same way, Wired’s app seems hermetically sealed off from the rest of the Internet. There are some links (including inside ads) but you can’t share a link to a story through a blog or a social network, and you can’t cut and paste anything.

That may all be great from a publisher’s point of view, since it (theoretically at least) increases the chances that a user will stay with the content and not go elsewhere, and simultaneously decreases the likelihood that a reader will take the content and use it in some unauthorized way. But is it great from a user’s point of view? Because it seems like an attempt to take the kind of control that publishers traditionally had in print and reproduce it in digital form, rather than trying to take advantage of the inherent features of mobile, Internet-enabled publishing.

Not everyone is going to be happy with that trade-off. Union Square Ventures partner Fred Wilson, for example — who recently wrote about his love for the iPad and how his family has adopted it as their new favorite computer — claims he’s come to prefer consuming content through a web browser rather than any of the dedicated publisher apps he has on the device. Among other things, Wilson said this is because:

Many of the apps treat pages as monolithic objects. You can’t cut and paste text, you can’t engage with the content. It is just like reading a magazine or a newspaper. If I wanted to read a magazine or newspaper in physical form, I’d do that.

Which may fit well with Apple’s approach to the iPad platform, which Federated Media CEO John Battelle describes as an AOL-style (s aol) walled garden. But publishers lusting after their own Wired-style apps had better hope that their readers don’t agree with the Union Square VC’s views, or their apps could wind up being nothing more than snazzy-looking ghost towns.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): With the iPad, Apple Takes Google to the Mat

10 Responses to “Are Flashy iPad Apps What Publishers Really Need?”

  1. Allison

    I have to admit that iPad changed my life style, like the PC appears, i don’t know how to live without my iPad, wanna share my apps in ipad,very useful.

    Twitterific- if you must tweet, you could do worse than use this free client.

    Winx HD video converter for MAC – I use it to convert videos to my iPad.

    Pandora Radio- another iPhone app that takes good advantage of the iPad’s larger display.

    Pro Keys- This straightforward polyphonic or monophonic keyboard has two ranks, each with seven voices and simple effects.

    Adobe Ideas- Flash may be banished from the iPad, but Adobe isn’t.

    WeatherBug- This free app can quickly show you weather conditions anywhere in the world.

  2. The question is really about value as noted in the comment about readers sticking within the application. From the user’s point of view, I would contend that the value is social/conversational and more about links than the content for the most part. Do you watch more YouTube/Hulu or stick to a channel such as NBC?

    The idea of a channel is in it’s death spiral. Keep trying if you wish! What apps offer is a highly visual experience, but I would suggest that print design models are not the best models — Flash or exported PDFs. What is needed is a customizable framework, something we thought about last year, where content could be customized for the user by interest. Ads could be contained and dynamically fed to user demographic models.

    In print most of the money was made in advertising rather than the purchase price. That paid for printing. Now we have to ask how the costs have changed and whether there is a sufficient base to make money here. That s not apparent in the mass publishing model. Smaller publishers could likely survive in the space.

    Personally, I read what comes into my view from sources such as this blog. I no longer subscribe to anything. I don’t own a television. I do have a few new apps, and political blog apps. I own 60 days of continuous music, having burned several thousand CDs that I have ditched. I use Pandora otherwise. Magazines make very little sense in this sort of life.

  3. Personally I just subscribed to a magazine in the Zinio iPad app which provides a more print like experience than the magazines own app. I find sticking with a magazine feel rather than trying to get fancy is more appealing to me for now.