This morning my daily Zite feed served up a very interesting headline from Mashable — “How Magazines Are Adapting to the Mobile Revolution” (http://mashable.com/2011/10/04/magazines-tablets-panel/) by Lauren Indvik. I eagerly clicked on the link to see what I could learn from this article that so perfectly fit my niche. A prominent group of New York publishers including editors and creative directors from titles like The New Yorker, Popular Mechanics, Parents and others were going to share their mobile insights. Ahh, well, maybe insight is a bit of a stretch.
As large as the audience is that these brands play to, they remarkably don’t get it… at all. The most disturbing comments come from Pamela Maffei McCarthy, deputy editor at The New Yorker, “Our readers had demonstrated that they were willing to put up with much less than perfect design and functionality to access stories we produced. So we strove to replicate the look and feel of the magazine.” OMG. Really? Complete with the fake page turns, too? That is forward-thinking New Yorker, kudos!
The New Yorker has conceded that UI and UX are somehow less important than the content. Certainly on tablets, and possibly even smartphones, I’d submit that quite the opposite might be the case. The experience on a tablet device is completely different than anything we’ve ever experienced. It feeds off of user interaction through swipes, gestures, orientation changes, etc. The experience enhances the content, it doesn’t make us work for it. Perhaps Pamela should spend 15-20 minutes listening to Josh Clark (@globalmoxie) talk about design? I think she’d even be embarrassed by her own comments. Josh teaches us that gestures, or intuitive and simple ways of interaction, create the best user experiences.
Ironically another participant in this discussion was Jim Meigs, Editor in Chief at Popular Mechanics. Jim’s magazine is (in)famous for being a tablet pioneer. Never seen the tablet version of Popular Mechanics? Well first, spend 5-10 minutes reading the instructions on how to actually use the tablet version. Then, read the content, which once you get to it really is fairly decent and not all that difficult to use. But why start off the experience with a bunch of instructions? Ready-to-assemble furniture from Ikea comes with instructions, magazine apps shouldn’t need them.
The panel of publishers goes on to discuss purchasing and pricing strategies. Bemoaning the fact that these counter-intuitive apps with regurgitated magazine content are not monetizing themselves. Shocking. Are they that naive to think that all of the content they put out is the center of their readers’ universe? Web content is free, abundant, and quite honestly, fairly good in most cases. As publishers, we need to make our content different — or at the very least free, abundant and good, because that’s what we are competing with.
Finally Pamela from The New Yorker expresses her concern on an ever-growing number of devices, “the sheer number of devices is absolutely dizzying”, she says. Yes, it sure is, and won’t be getting better anytime soon. “Now we are on four devices, all of which require tweaking to make our material work at all, much less really shine.” This is really quite simple, in my opinion. Quit developing native.
The mobile web has rapidly evolved into a very useful platform for publishers. Using tools like jQuery Mobile, Appcelerator, and Sencha you can do some pretty amazing things that are cross-platform capable. Remember that the shine comes from the experience as much as the content. If the experience is good along with the content, the audience becomes captive. A captive audience can easily become monetized. See where we are going here? Alternatively look at the Boston Globe’s new site. Utilizing responsive design, they’ve managed to create a pretty decent experience for desktop, tablet and mobile, all under one umbrella. The other cool thing? Apple isn’t taking 30% of any subscription revenue.
Per the article, Jason Revzon of Taunton Press was the only one that seemed to recognize mobile web as what lies ahead. Jason cited HTML5, the open web, and browser-based apps as an opportunity. To me it’s apparent that the little guys, like Taunton, have a clearer vision of the mobile future than those with deeper pockets. Dare I say those deep pockets are what stand between really good mobile experiences, and “less than perfect design and functionality.” Well done Jason, perhaps you should consult with the The New Yorker, they could use you.