The keys to the digital publishing kingdom

ShanephotoIt’s still early days for tablet publishing but in a piece that first featured in Encore, Reddo Media’s Shane Mitchell says that several lessons have already been learnt. 

As more magazines (like Encore) take the leap from print on to tablet, more publishers and agencies are weighing up the pros and cons. With any new digital trend there are risks, myths and opportunities. 

From what we can tell, the number of people talking about digital publishing on connected devices far outweighs those actually doing it. So here’s five simple must-learn tips we’ve picked up along the way.

Apps should be a revolution, not an evolution

The first instinct of some publishers is simply to replicate their print edition on the tablet, or optimise their websites for mobile. Same content, same frequency, same experience, same readers, same advertisers.

But publishing in the App Store allows you to tap into valuable new readers and markets. More than 122m people have downloaded a Newsstand app. Also a digital replica edition or mobile website misses a lot of the benefits of tablet technology. Digital readers (and advertisers) expect to zoom, swipe, scroll, view streaming video, click links and more.

They want on-demand, storable, dynamic tablet content − not traditional content merely made accessible on a tablet.

“We’ve got an app” is not advertising 

So what? Who hasn’t got an app these days? Unless you can answer the “what’s in it for me?” question, why should anyone click your link to download?

With 8,500 magazines in Apple’s Newsstand, tablet magazines face even more competition than print mags do in the newsagent. Your readership can find content from publishers around the globe on virtually any topic. So your value proposition needs to be strong and your call to action persuasive.

Will your app make me smarter? More alluring? Help me keep my job? Keep me updated with news and the latest thinking? Make me laugh?

If you don’t tell people your app is special, they might assume you’ve got a PDF replica of your print title. Promote your app with previews, reviews and testimonials. Publishing your app is just the beginning of your marketing strategy.

App downloads are not an audience

Ever deleted an app? How about installing an app just for the free promo issue, never to buy? Perhaps you’re an intermittent reader, only downloading an issue when it contains something of specific interest?

Just like the early days of the web, it is usually the biggest, most convenient but largely irrelevant numbers that get bandied around.  But ‘total app downloads’ is no indicator of success. It isn’t even another notch to circulation numbers. Globally, the average ratio between total app installs and issues downloaded is around 10:1. One big-name Australian magazine has a ratio closer to 20:1, while some others perform better.

The metrics that matter most to our clients reflect what people do with that app once installed. Total engagement (total time, dwell time, interactions), coupled with the last issue’s audience size (issue downloads, issue opens), shows how well your app is converting installs into readers.

There are many other worthy metrics; such as five-star versus one-star ratings, total app launches, first-time app launches and the last app update number (measuring the actual or active installed base). These are far more useful in showing how well your app strategy is doing.

But the number of total app downloads is merely the discovery rate, possibly indicating how well you’ve promoted the app and not much else.

And even actual subscriber numbers may not correspond with the number of issue downloads. Don’t assume an in-app subscription automatically background downloads each new magazine as it is released. Newsstand content will not automatically download unless the reader also agrees to accept push notifications. (If you’re one of those frustrated subscribers not getting the full experience, switch on notifications for the specific app in your iPad settings. If you’re a publisher, encourage readers to allow push notifications or find other ways of reminding them when new issues become available.)

Trust your data, not the vocal minority

Any change to your publishing strategy will suit some readers and annoy others. “What about my (obscure) operating system?” “Why can’t I have my print edition back?” “Listen to me, me, ME.”

Building a version of your app for Microsoft Surface tablets may please the two or three critics who have one. But is it worth the extra expense and additional production resources every issue to satisfy a small percentage of readers? You don’t necessarily need to publish to every device right now. However, you should future proof your strategy by adopting a platform at the start that can publish to these devices when it suits you.

Who really owns your app?

It is global Apple policy to never transfer an app from one developer account to another. With millions of apps in the App Store, questions of ownership, transfers and migration of data are problems they simply don’t want.

So if you’ve allowed your app to be published through someone else’s developer account, you’ve just locked up your audience and IP in someone else’s business. The problem may not arise for months or even years, but should you decide to change agency or developer, you’ll be faced with either starting completely from scratch or paying huge amounts to buy out the developer’s business, assuming they want to sell.

So beware of digital publishing developers or agencies that offer a cheap or entry-level service based on their internal platform or account. They may be taking you for a ride.

Shane Mitchell is the CEO of Reddo Media who work with Encore on the publish of the Encore tablet edition.

Encore Issue 15This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.