It is exactly a year since the launch of Apple's iOS 5 and with it came Newsstand, an in-built app for the iPad and iPhone giving consumers empty shelves reminiscent of the real-world newsstand, to be filled with their selection of magazines and newspapers.
Publishers had been creating iPad editions for some time, but the new app was an easier route in to the App Store for consumers and one that accelerated app downloads and sales at levels which prompted some to describe it as "revolutionising" the publishing industry.
Here we take a look at how three publishers approached developing apps with Newsstand in mind, and gather pointers on what some consider the holy grail of app publishing: getting a digital edition in the 'featured app' category and seeing sales soar as a result.
Starting with PDF page-turners
Future Publishing was an early Newsstand success story. Four days after launch the publisher of Future Music, Total Film and T3 reported 2 million app downloads; after six weeks its magazine apps had been downloaded 6 million times.
Last month Future, which now has more than 65 titles on Newsstand, reported that digital sales had topped £5 million.
And at a conference a fortnight ago, Mike Goldsmith, editor-in-chief of digital editions at Future Publishing, reported 150,000 sales every month.
"The most important thing is that we got on there quick," he told Journalism.co.uk, explaining that Future decided the best approach was to be ready for the launch of Newsstand by creating PDF page-turner apps of its titles.
"Some people didn't see this as a particularly elegant solution or the most futuristic solution to what a digital edition should be on something as gorgeous as the iPad, but it enabled us to get on there, learn, get some analytics back, talk to customers and find out what they want," Goldsmith added.
"And what we are finding out is that whatever you do, whether it's flat, whether it's interactive, it's not enough just to make something and get on there - because there are 4,600 magazines on the Newsstand right now - but you need to do what you would do in print which is actually publish something good."
Future has since created interactive, iPad-only editions and a range of new products. More on those shortly.
The Vogue approach
Conde Nast has also pushed out a range of page-turner digital editions, gradually enhancing them as interactives.
GQ, Wired, Vanity Fair and Vogue are now all "re-imagined" fully interactive and multimedia magazine experiences, and Glamour will follow suit shortly.
"We made a major investment in these five titles where we've essentially hired a new art desk: four, five, six people per title who redesign, re-imagine the magazine for the tablet. So it's not just a PDF, it's something really thought through and carefully put together with the device, the distribution platform, in mind," Albert Read, deputy managing director of Conde Nast in the UK, told Journalism.co.uk.We made a major investment in these five titles where we've essentially hired a new art desk: four, five, six people per title who redesign, re-imagine, the magazine for the tabletAlbert Read, Conde Nast
And that approach has resulted in more than 1 million app downloads (including mobile downloads) for Conde Nast, "most of which are paid", Read said.
When it comes to the interactive titles rather than the page-turners, around 10 to 15 per cent of Conde Nast's paid sales are now done through iPads, he added. And for Wired, 27 per cent of print subscribers also download the iPad app, which is bundled into their subscription.
"Within a very short time we've seen a dramatic increase and exposure to a new platform, and the iPad is really one of our most important sales channels now for magazines."
A hybrid approach
When the digital team at Dennis Publishing started planning an iPad app for "powerhouse brand" The Week, a magazine summarising the best of UK and foreign media, they had ambitions for an interactive.
"Readers really love The Week so we went into it thinking we are going to make something amazing, really all-singing-all-dancing." Alex Watson, head of app development at Dennis Publishing, said.
The in-house team created prototypes but they did not get the anticipated reaction. "They just didn't handle user testing very well at all. It became obvious to us that we'd made an awful lot of assumptions."
When Watson and colleagues started to explore what The Week readers wanted they were surprised.
"They were really clear about what they wanted from the app - and it wasn't what we thought."
The team went back the drawing board and started again with a user-experience focused approach, using digital design agency Clearleft.
"It was no longer about satisfying our desires to re-invent media, it was about delivering a really beautiful, clear reading experience, with fast, fast downloads," Watson said.It was no longer about satisfying our desires to re-invent media, it was about delivering a really beautiful, clear reading experience, with fast, fast downloadsAlex Watson, Dennis Publishing
The app was built using a hybrid approach, which has resulted in a typical app download size of just 15 to 20MB, 20 or 30 times smaller than most iPad apps.
Readers also wanted resizable text for legibility and a night mode, a low contrast mode, "because we know a lot of Week readers read it in bed", Watson explained.
"It's not a very feature-heavy app, it's very, very simple," Watson added. "There's quite a lot of white space, it definitely doesn't look like a digital magazine.
Last month The Week iPad app was named Digital Edition of the Year at the PPA awards.
New platform, new products
He also predicted iPad-only launches. Future has since released digital-only titles, including Cycling News HD, published weekly and born out of CyclingNews.com
"It looks as gorgeous as some of our print cycling titles and we have a lot of leading brands in that sector, but we've decided that if we are going for a market that is outside of the UK and in the digital space, sometimes a print brand isn't necessarily what you want to go with," Goldsmith explained.
And last month Future launched Photography Week. "We have a magazine called Digital Camera (Digital Camera World outside the UK), which does very well on Newsstand as a flat edition," Goldsmith said.
"We were looking at adding video and all the things we've done with magazines like Total Film and Edge to that product but we worked with the publishers and they said 'no, what we want to do is try to unlock the audience who do things at a weekend'.
"They are going out and about, they are in the countryside, they are in the city, they are going to see an exhibition. They want a project, they want to be able to look at portrait photography, they want to look at nature photography, why should they wait every month to do that, why can't we do it every week?"
Future has therefore taken the content from Digital Camera, plus new content, including video, audio and social media links, and has created an iPad-only weekly.
"We've got a chance to experiment," Goldsmith said. "There aren't that many print launches coming through, there are some and we do them, but it's quite costly; paper is very expensive, it's never been as expensive as it is now, but to quote a publisher of mine, 'electrons are still free'."
- Second screen
"That's previously been trapped on cover-mounted discs that would come with our magazines."
And Future aims to ensure quality with digital editions. The publisher has tested it out on journalists working on its guitar titles, who were asked if they would use the new product, "because if it doesn't pass that test it's just going to die on the App Store".
New markets, new readers
When Goldsmith delivered presentations on Newsstand at publishing conferences a year ago, he said he would be asked a common question.
"The first question from the audience would be 'aren't you cannibalising your own sales?' And that question would come from our editors as well."
"But 80 per cent of sales are overseas, 90 per cent of customers are new to the brand." And 40 per cent of all of sales are for subscriptions. "That's brilliant, because it is offsetting that sad decline in print.
It is a similar story for Conde Nast. "We are reaching a new audience, we are able to target them in new ways, we are able to market to them in new ways, it's a pretty exciting new development for us," Read said.
"It means that the overall circulations of our magazines in these particular instances are growing very healthily so that we are seeing very big increases in circulation with titles such as Wired and GQ."
Overseas sales vary from title to title, Read added, "A magazine like Vanity Fair will see quite a big proportion of its iPad sales coming from overseas, something like 60 to 70 per cent will be international, but that applies to print as well.
"When it comes to something like GQ it's less, something like 30 per cent, and Wired is about 30 per cent too.
"There's definitely an international audience there who appreciate and value the iPad edition because it's fast, it's cheaper than buying an export copy of a magazine, which you have to wait six weeks for, so of course it's attractive to them and that's absolutely a market that we want to build."
Get onto the carousel
Publishers are keenly aware that being selected by Apple as a 'featured app' in Newsstand has a huge impact on sales.
So how have Future, Dennis and Conde Nast found success on the carousel?
- Conde Nast
"These titles are really something special and they are something beyond the print magazine.I hope in 12 months' time the big story will be a commerical oneMike Goldsmith, Future Publishing
"If you look at GQ there's so much creativity there from the design team, from the journalists, from the multimedia we put in there, they are re-thinking what magazines can be on these new platforms. Apple appreciates that and they appreciate that we are doing something other than just slapping a PDF onto the device and hoping that people like it."
- Dennis Publishing
"They looked at designs, gave us some feedback and they strongly recommend reading the human interface guidelines and looking at the 'best in class' apps on the platform."
Watson said that what Apple likes and what readers want are not necessarily the same. "But if you make a product that your users like, that will increase the chance of being featured."
- Future Publishing
Another year on
So what will the story be a year from now? "I hope in 12 months' time the big story will be a commerical one," Goldsmith said. "Volumes of copy sales are coming, new tablets are coming, new audiences are coming.
"The person who buys a £150 Nexus 7 is very different to the person who buys an iPhone 5. What do those people want to read? When do they want to read it? How? All of those questions we don't know. And that's the really exciting bit."
For more from Goldsmith, Read and Watson, listen to this Journalism.co.uk podcast.
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