The rise and fall of the magazine app

Technology Review built an iPad app, and now regrets it. Editor in Chief Jason Pontin tells the story, from great expectations to sad disappointment, and predicts that other publishers will follow the lead of the Financial Times (and Boston Globe) and embrace the web. He concludes that the “paid, expensively developed publishers’ app, with its extravagantly produced digital replica, is dead.”

Key quote:

We sold 353 subscriptions through the iPad. We never discovered how to avoid the necessity of designing both landscape and portrait versions of the magazine for the app. We wasted $124,000 on outsourced software development. We fought amongst ourselves, and people left the company. There was untold expense of spirit. I hated every moment of our experiment with apps, because it tried to impose something closed, old, and printlike on something open, new, and digital.

This appears to be mostly a failure of the app business model, and to a lesser extent the limitations of native app development. On the business side, the revenues never made up for the cost of development, especially with Apple taking 30% off the top. On the technology side, what’s interesting is that TR readers appear to value what Jason calls “the linky-ness of the Web” over the prettiness of the app. In other words, looks are, apparently, not everything, even on the iPad.


2 thoughts on “The rise and fall of the magazine app

  1. Then again, perhaps “Technology Review” just sucks as a magazine?

    I remember way back when when I tried their “three month free trial subscription” and then, after having read the three back issues they sent me, concluded that it wasn’t a magazine I’d be interested in. They spent quite a while sending me very nasty dunning letters, demanding that I pay for their trial subscription or they would banish me to their life-long blacklist. As if I’d care about that!

    By comparison, the iPads that my wife and I own are the reason why we’ve subscribed to “The New York Times” — the content is worthwhile and delivered fresh throughout every hour of every day.

    Don’t blame the app for your magazine’s failures.

    • I agree that every publication’s experience is different, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame the editorial side for the actions of the subscription department. My understanding is that those are usually quite separate operations.

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