Apps and Audience: Four Case Studies That Examine How Audience Engagement and Preferences Are Impacting the Way Publishers Are Building and Marketing Their Apps

By Raphael, T. J.; Mickey, Bill | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Apps and Audience: Four Case Studies That Examine How Audience Engagement and Preferences Are Impacting the Way Publishers Are Building and Marketing Their Apps


Raphael, T. J., Mickey, Bill, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


The magazine app world is still in its infancy. Publishers, for the most part, have been stymied by the mixed blessings of app distribution and development. On the one hand, the installed base of tablet devices is forecasted to be huge. As this >welbase grows, so too does the potential for publishers to get their digital brands into the hands of a new segment of consumers. On the other, Apple is still king of the tablet and app hill, and publishers are beholden to that company's lock-down on audience metrics, pricing constraints and subscription rules.

Time Inc., Hearst and Conde Nast have recently made in-roads with Apple to loosen subscription requirements. Time Inc. can now offer free iPad versions of People, Sports Illustrated, TIME and Fortune to its existing print subscribers--enabling it to better package print and digital bundles. Hearst and Conde both have negotiated their way into more equitable subscription terms where readers can subscribe to iPad editions of some of the companies' magazines and newspapers, but with publishers presumably able to extract more customer information at a different revenue split with Apple.

In the meantime, publishers that don't have the negotiating strength of the big guys must rely on their own consumer insights and marketing tactics to help their apps rise to the top of a crowed market. Here, we examine four approaches by publishers who are closely watching how their apps are being used by customers and adjusting functionality, content and marketing strategies accordingly.

Popular Science

One of the world's oldest publications has a new venue on the iPad.

Founded in 1872, Popular Science is still innovating with its iPad app nearly 140 years later.

"There are things about the app that are particularly engaging and it has features and functionalities that many other apps just don't have," says Gregg Hano, vice president of group publishing for Bonnier, of the Popular Science+ application. "The text and the images can be very compelling and different on our apps versus anyone else's. I think there's a difference in the display itself, I think that leads to greater engagement."

PopSci first launched its digital version on April 3, 2010, since then the tablet magazine has had about 115,000 single copy download purchases. The first digital subscriptions were available in February 2011; the magazine is closing in on 20,000.

The interface allows a story to be read vertically or horizontally, a reader can sideways swipe to navigate through content or tap at the left or right edges of the screen to turn pages and find new stories. To jump to the beginning of a story, just tap at the top of the screen.

A double tap browse mode makes text disappear and brings to the forefront the magazine's photography and illustrations. Additionally, it is easy to jump between sections--press and hold a finger anywhere on the screen to bring up the navigation pop-up content panel, which allows access to current issue lists at the top to purchase past or current editions.

The navigation bar shows story thumbnail previews at the bottom of the screen, allowing a user to tap one to go to that page. If a reader wants to come back to content, the ability to bookmark an article, by tapping on the upper-right corner of a page, will save the content.

A live tab allows users to tap and see Popsci.com and read current science news from within the app, which is uncompromised even if you're offline. A "heated" mode pops up after you rub the screen--it allows you to select text that can be e-mailed, tweeted, posted to Facebook or saved in a scrapbook. Readers can also save a URL from stories or ads to come back to later.

Hano says all of these features were designed around what the group learned from their app audience.

Engagement Is Critical

"The fact is that engagement is absolutely key to readers. …

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