The baffling stall of tablet magazine evolution

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Newsstand 2014 ios8

Interesting piece from a couple of months ago, on the faltering pace of change in tablet magazines. It makes a good case for what’s gone wrong – and an even more compelling one for some missed opportunities:

A successful tablet magazine requires a complete restructuring. “It makes no sense to me that Conde Nast and Hearst, with so many titles, have been unable to present consumers with the opportunity to mix and match from those titles,” Zeff said. “That type of curation is what we do every day with our Facebook and Twitter feeds. We pick and choose where we’re going to get our information and if there’s something we don’t like, we mute it.”

I think it’s inarguable at this point that there are two major issues as well as the ones listed in the article:

  1. Too many publishers just “shovelling” their magazine editions onto the tablet without thoughtful format changes – poor user experience keeps people from coming back
  2. Apple’s Newsstand becoming less and less useful with every release of iOS.

As Glenn Fleishman wrote, reflecting on the up-coming demise of The Magazine – one of the few tablet magazines that genuinely did something different – Apple has really made it hard to like Newsstand:

Finally, Apple turning apps in the Newsstand essentially invisible curtailed any possibility of a revival. Marko Karppinen wrote sensibly in October 2013 that his publishing platform firm could no longer recommend to its clients that they develop new publications to appear in the Newsstand: “Once downloaded, Newsstand publications are hidden away within the Newsstand app.” If I moved my app out of the Newsstand, all the in-app subscriptions would have been cancelled, dooming it.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the general idea of magazines will survive – most of the pure-play digital websites I read regularly are, essentially, magazines in conception. The only question that remains is “will anything that looks like existing print products survive?” – and that’s looking more dubious by the month.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.