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.