More on the Use of Apps in Publishing

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about a decision by Technology Review to discontinue its app and focus on delivering mobile content using HTML5. In my post, I talked about “the escalating cost of trying to control everything.”

I followed that up with a post that described two instances in which apps could provide value for publishers:

  • When the underlying content is variable, subject to change or useful to analyze in structured ways over time; and
  • When analysis is user-driven, based in available content and not necessarily something a publisher can predict.

Since then, other people have responded to the Technology Review decision. One post,written by P.J. Gurumohan for Folio:, offers five ways to make app development more effective. One recommendation in particular (“don’t chain content to design”) gets at the heart of most failed mobile strategies.

Another, written by Linda Ruth for Publishing Executive, argues that some publishers do like apps. She notes we are in the early days of apps, a period in which that “publishers are still debating whether an app should be a digital magazine or something more interactive, in Apple or Android or HTML5 format.”

It’s true that publishers are still debating these things, but for most, there is only one good answer (no need to wait for it; think HTML5).

Ruth tells the story of a magazine, Discovery Girls, that released an app to help its target audience make their own covers. While the Discovery Girls app can help earn revenue (it sells for $1.99) and potentially land new subscribers, I don’t think it is an effective response to Pontin’s objection. The app doesn’t bring published content to digital platforms, which is the use-case that Pontin addressed in his initial post.

A more interesting example might be Future plc, a U.K.-based publisher with global distribution. They recently reported half-year results in which their iPad app brought in $5 million in revenue, with 80% of the buyers outside the U.K.

Of course, it also appears that Future bet big on the iPad and Apple’s Newsstand platform, to the exclusion of other media. Maybe the publisher realized the cost of trying to control everything really is too high.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.