Tuesday, April 12, 2011

To App or Not to App

Though I don’t have a snazzy iPhone or iPad, I’m intrigued by the millions of apps you can get for them, as well as for other smart devices like Blackberry. In particular of course, I’m interested in which magazines are diving into the app world and with what kind of apps. 

Not surprisingly, big guns like Time, Sports Illustrated and GQ all have apps that not only offer complete versions of their print editions typically with a customized reader, but also app-exclusive content, such as videos and photos. (See Magapps.com for a bevy of offerings.)

Key factors for whether apps are successful ride on how well they are designed in terms of doing what they say they will, how useful the app actually is and if it ties in well with the magazine’s brand. Ease of use is also a big deal since no one wants to get frustrated trying to make an app work. 
I asked Cottage Life’s Terry Sellwood about their app and the development process behind it. Currently available for free in the iTunes store, the Cottage Life app is “a compilation of many years of content from our question and answer feature in the magazine,” he says. “People have questions about their cottages and cottage life, and we try to answer those questions. Anyone with a question about their cottage is invited to try the app and if their question isn't there, they're invited to send it to us.”  

You can search by the magazine’s topics or enter your own search terms to find out all things cottage-related like how to deal with the stink if your dog gets sprayed by a skunk, green suggestions such as going fertilizer-free or whether it’s okay to pee in a lake. (The short answer, by the way, is NO.) The app meets the above criteria as it’s easy to use, practical and ties in with what Cottage Life magazine is all about.

The Cottage Life team decided to create an app based on this popular department in the print mag because as Terry points out, it’s “one of the most useful applications we have.” It’s also a fantastic way to repackage existing content. It took about six months to go from inception to launch, “but it could have been done much sooner,” he says. “Probably just a few weeks of straight time. This was a part time project for a few people.”

In terms of revenues, the app doesn’t generate any as a freebie. “It's free right now until we get a wide enough dispersion,” explains Terry. “It's more of a branding and promotion strategy. We don't expect to make much money on this one. It will probably be charged at $0.99 when it's no longer free.”

That could be reason enough not to do an app for some publishers, but revenue is possible on the app front. Some magazines build advertising into their apps while others create new content for paid-for apps. Similar to how websites have evolved, apps will likely become an expected platform from content publishers.

Right now, Terry says it’s still too early to tell what the overall response to their app is, but his advice to other publishers is: “Just do it.”

--- Colleen Seto
AMPA Blogger-in-Residence