Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of Technology Review, last week posted “Why publishers don’t like apps“. In it, Pontin offers a well-reasoned argument against the app-ification of content.
The subhead tells the main story: “The future of media on mobile devices isn’t with applications but with the web.” Pontin recalls the unprofitable and unsatisfactory experiences that characterized the use of apps at Technology Review, vowing that they will soon switch to HTML5 and discontinue their support of mobile apps.
Pontin might have strengthened his argument by exploring why publishers do like apps (and digital editions): they sustain the notion that an editor can control the way that readers engage with content. Drawing on an earlier post, I’d call that a fundamentally flawed premise:
Readers want to address a need or solve a problem, not replicate the reading experience of a broadsheet, or an 8-3/8 x 10-7/8 magazine or a 6 x 9 book. New formats provide new opportunities, and defining the brand in terms of what worked in print certainly leaves the door wide open for disruption.
Pontin does note that digital editions have gained relatively little consumer acceptance. But his criticism of apps in part resides in the publisher-side challenge of designing for multiple devices and aspect ratios. That problem starts when you plan for one format (typically, print) and then try to extend those design decisions to other, varied platforms.
Prior posts illustrate how much I appreciate the work that Pontin has done to assess the media landscape. I also think that Technology Review is making the right choice for its content. Maybe I’d just be happier with an article titled “The escalating cost of trying to control everything”.