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Last month I published a post on my company blog that caused some (shall we say) interesting feedback from both our publisher clients as well as the broader media community. While I was certainly not the first to proclaim the death of the tablet magazine, the now universally recognized and unequivocal data pointing to the steep decline of print-replica apps is becoming undeniable.
What’s even worse news for magazine publishers who have chosen either a PDF-based or Adobe InDesign-led “Plug-In” app solution in a race to cash in on Apple’s Newsstand is the damning evidence of Apple’s lack of support…and frankly, interest in the Newsstand app itself.
Once the “holy grail” for magazine publishers, promising front-and-center exposure for their periodicals, the Newsstand app in iOS 7 has become almost irrelevant.
As pointed out by Hamish Mckenzie from Pandodaily:
“…there is now no visual reminder within the Newsstand icon that there are publications inside, waiting to be read. On top of that, in iOS7 users can now hide the Newsstand icon inside a folder. The once-special treatment that Apple gave publishers in order to encourage the distribution of magazines to the iPhone and iPad has apparently vanished, at least in terms of visual prominence.”
As Mckenzie points out, even Glenn Fleishman’s The Magazine (once industry-darling for the ‘new paradigm of digital magazines’) is suffering from near anonymity given its presence in Newsstand. According to Fleishman, he receives “email regularly from readers who say that they forget that [new] issues even come out.”
So what’s happening here – is Apple actively abandoning the Newsstand concept or simply responding to user appetite and shifting demand in iOS 7?
The answer is probably a little of both.
Since its inception the Newsstand app has angered iOS users to no end in its inability to be “hidden” or tucked away into a folder. It’s also no secret that tablet magazines are simply not being read – the form factor and technology is basically making the standardized magazine page a near anachronism in a world of dynamic live canvases of the caliber of a Flipboard or Zite.
So it’s not a case of Apple killing Newsstand – but rather, Newsstand killing itself. What we are dealing with now is simply a folder – and worse than that – a folder that can be hidden within another folder.
Now that all iOS 7 apps can enjoy background refresh and download, and given the ability to hide the app and even “mute” Newsstand reminders – publishers are forced to compete on a completely level playing field with all other iOS apps.
And for magazine publishers – that’s frightening.
With a number of magazine publishers as current and former clients – we are acutely aware of the challenges they face. From dwindling print revenues to increasing internal costs managing simultaneous print and digital editions of their magazines – it’s absolutely understandable that choosing the apparent “quick win” of InDesign-generated apps (Adobe’s own DPS, Mag+, etc.), or even PDF-wrapper solutions provide a cheap and rapid route to the App store.
But it’s been a false economy, and there simply is no time to waste waiting for things to improve.
Publishers must break free of the Newsstand and InDesign/PDF trap and invest in their publications as stand-alone, real, honest-to-God apps – or find their titles even more neglected within a vestigial folder that will be inevitably reside inside yet another folder.
And that’s scary.
The Newsstand and tablet magazine honeymoon is over. Apple knows it. The industry knows it. And consumers have made it painfully clear for far too long.
It’s time for magazine publishers to abandon the easy options – and make the hard decisions that will save their digital titles.
Eddie Vassallo is the CEO of Entropy, an app development company.