Barebones and featureless

Late last year, the Economist released an iOS app that one review described as “barebones and featureless, but that’s okay“. After working with the app for a few weeks, I came to the same conclusion.

In creating an app, the Economist went in a somewhat different direction. The app is free; anyone can download it to an iOS device. Once you load the app, you have an option to download and read a selection of content (generally, the magazine’s leaders, or opinion pages).

If you want the full magazine, you have two options: buy a digital-only subscription ($110), or link your app to a print subscription, the route I took (you use a settings screen to add a subscriber number and expiration date for your print edition). This approach is elegant: print subscribers are not asked to pay twice for the ability to read across different platforms.

The overall interface is text-based and simple, and as a result updates are not onerous: downloads of the entire magazine take about 30 seconds over a wi-fi network in my office. (Yes, I timed it. I’m geeky like that.) Because I commute by train, I’ve found myself reading more the magazine’s content than I did with the print subscription alone.

I’ve written that devices (alone) will not save publishing, but there is a lot of good in the approach employed by the Economist. It augments the print consumption experience, respects the investment made by existing subscribers and brings a weekly update in a manageable amount of time.

The free app also lets new readers sample parts of the magazine, a low-cost approach that could help grow the total number of paid subscriptions. The Economist app is not just about digital; it’s about using digital to build content awareness and make content consumption easier. And that’s okay.

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.

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