Two years after the debut of the iPad, most newspaper publishers still are fretting and fumbling over what to do about it.

Even though the iPad 2 was one of the most popular items last Christmas and the third-generation version of the product is likely to turn up well before Santa returns this year, many newspapers have yet to develop their very first app. Of the publishers who took the plunge, most were so unclear on their concept that they shouldn’t have bothered.

Publishers have to start doing better, because iPad owners, who represent the vast bulk of the tablet computing market, look an awful lot like newspaper readers.

In a study released last year, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 90 percent of tablet owners — who are concentrated among wealthy, highly educated adults between the ages of 30 and 49 — regularly use the gizmos to consume news. Significantly, 59 percent of respondents said the tablet has taken the place of “what they used to get” from a print newspaper.

In other words, tablet users represent not just a potentially valuable audience for publishers, but also one they can’t afford to lose.

Notwithstanding the stakes, publishers have been anything but nimble in addressing the best medium yet for transitioning the traditional print experience to a truly compelling, lean-back digital platform.

Because newspapers seldom invest in creating bespoke digital content for their apps, their iPad offerings pale in comparison to those produced by any number of competing magazines, broadcasters, and native digital publishers, including — to name just a few — Bloomberg BusinessWeek, France24, BBC, and News Corp.’s The Daily, which, though journalistically anemic, is headed in the right direction. All of these apps, like most of the 140,000 others available at the Apple store, feature interactive tools, rich graphics, audio, video, maps, and much more. That is to say: They fully leverage the power of this new medium.

Newspapers, on the other hand, largely have punted, letting readers use the incumbent Safari Web browser on the iPad to plumb the dense, user-unfriendly websites where publishers dump their print output for consumption on the Web. In contrast to the crisp, graphically engaging and highly interactive apps flooding the Apple store, the typical newspaper site is filled with gray, meandering columns of text requiring multiple swipes to get to the bottom of the page. That is to say: Newspapers don’t come close to leveraging the power of this new medium.

The few newspaper publishers who ventured into app development tripped themselves up. While The New York Times is one of the few publishers successfully charging for access to its digital content, its text-centric iPad app offers only a limited sample of the material available in print. The sparseness of the news report combined with the paucity of interactive content make for a distinctly tepid experience.

In Silicon Valley of all places, the San Francisco Chronicle concocted a paid app that includes a smattering of up-to-date news and sports, but relies heavily on such archival material as old — and I do mean old — columns from the late, great Herb Caen, who died in 1997, pounding his Loyal Royal typewriter to the end. How could the paper be more out of touch?

The Philadelphia Inquirer produced an app consisting of a clunky, slowto- load, scarcely interactive PDF of its broadsheet. Then, hoping to build a base of dedicated users for this lessthan- scintillating experience, the publisher loaded the app on 5,000 tablets manufactured by some no-name company in France. At last report, a fair number of those no-name tablets were gathering dust in a warehouse.

There is one bright spot:

OCRegister The Peel app launched by The Orange County Register, which is updated in the early evening each day when iPad use is known to peak. Built from inception as a dedicated app, the easy-to-navigate Peel includes not just the latest news, traffic, weather, and sports, but also splashy pictures, interesting video, and other elements that make it visually appealing, quick to read, and fun.

The Peel doesn’t look, feel, or act like a newspaper, because it is not supposed to. And that’s the point:

The key to successful iPad development is not to reprise the newspaper but to leverage the platform to create new experiences for audiences you are trying to attract, be they football fans, barbecue aficionados, or architecture buffs.

Beyond selling advertising, a successful app can get consumers to subscribe to unique, premium content. Although Pew discovered that four out of five people won’t buy news on the iPad, Zynga’s $7 billion IPO valuation proves consumers will spend money on something they care about.

Tapping into consumer passions is the way to win in AppVille.

Alan D. Mutter is a former newspaper editor who became a Silicon Valley CEO and now consults for the media industry. He blogs at Reflections of a Newsosaur (newsosaur.blogspot.com).

Comments

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I have not any problems with let down or being uncomfortable (Its platform is in a narrow spotlight.?
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World-class design, 21st-century methodology

PaleyD | Tuesday, February 28, 2012

For us at Ready-Media, the answer lies in creating a set of tools that streamline content creation and publication to diverse media. Too often, publishers waste time re-purposing and re-arranging content and layouts for different platforms. At the end of the day, they're left with compromised digital editions. Our solution is responsive design--your content looks great and presents a consistent brand no matter the platform (or screen orientation). We offer flexibility and a foundation of high design. Digital editions aren't static in apps that must be downloaded (and later forgotten)... they're interactive, scaleable and responsive. Check out http://ready-media.com/ and http://treesaver.net/

Missing the point?

Sara | Monday, February 20, 2012

I'm a little curious about the emphasis on a dedicated app in this story. Wouldn't it be better to have an awesome web experience on a tablet, since most people don't really use all the apps that they download? Also since news, like a lot of other stuff, is going social, wouldn't you be better off having a great site to link to from Twitter and Facebook? Also, the app "delivering" content at the end of the day is practically the definition of what's wrong with the newspaper business today - old-school thinking that doesn't reflect how people are actually consuming. News should be available constantly, not just a big dump once a day. Maybe that works for the 45 and up readers who hold onto the concept of an "edition," but for everyone else, that's just behind the times.

know your market?

Kent Ford | Wednesday, February 8, 2012

So, if 10 percent of the people in a market use iPhones/iPads (Apple products) and 50 percent use Android gadgets or another kind because they cost a third as much as Apple gadgets, a newspaper should spend its resources catering to the gadget snobs? (How do you sell that to enough advertisers who want the most eyeballs to make a living?)
It would be nice if a newspaper could pay for the development of one app that would work on all gadgets. Maybe that's the biggest hurdle.
It's the same old story. If Mutter were a barber, his response always would be, "Yes, you need a haircut."

A Different Perspective

Richard Truesdell | Wednesday, February 8, 2012

While not a newspaper publisher, I would like to add my perspective to the discussion.
Five years ago, along with two partners and a dedicated group of contributors I launched Automotive Traveler, an online magazine that combined elements of a traditional car buff magazine like Car and Driver with the destination travel features of a glossy travel magazine like Conde Nast Traveler. At the time our publishing "platform" was supplied by an outside vendor.
Fast forward three years, to the fall of 2010 when we re-launched Automotive Traveler magazine using an in-house developed platform, what we call a viewer, that presents our tablet-friendly content on any device with an Internet connection running a browser. One scalable publication that can be effectively viewed on smartphones, iPads, other tablets like the 7-inch Kindle Fire and the Barnes and Noble Nook Color and Tablet, as well as any netbook, notebook, laptop, ultrabook, desktop computer, even browser-enabled devices like Blu-Ray players and gaming consoles.
To see what I mean, take a look here:
http://bit.ly/xH0BjR
Do we have the only solution? I'm not sure. But we're proud of our platform that has one undeniable advantage over any app; content presented in our viewer is indexed by Google, thus turns up in content searches. Combine that with the fact that it works on any device that runs a browser, we're showing that traditional content -- magazine and newspaper -- can be presented in a way that is both familiar as well as web friendly.
Content for our platform is easy to produce in DTP programs like InDesign and getting it posted to the web requires a minimum of IT intervention.
I like to think that what we are doing, producing magazine-quality content properly formatted for computers and tablets is the way to go, short term. How all this plays out remains to be seen.
HTML5 shows a lot of promise and many publications are now embracing an approach that eliminates the need for costly, device/platform-specific apps.
But I will admit that the iPad has a lot of momentum and is at this point, the de facto standard for tablets and in this regard content developed and presented using our platform works great on an iPad as well as most other devices. Our content is among the most readable on 7-inch devices like the Amazon Fire and the Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet, which do a terrible job presenting magazine and newspaper replicas (try to read pages without zooming and scrolling).
Will be curious as to what other publishing professionals here think of the approach we are taking. At this point I'm looking for other publications to adopt our publishing platform, small publishers with niche-focused publications that are mapping out their own print to digital transition strategy.
Richard Truesdell
Co-founder and Editorial Director, Automotive Traveler magazine, AutomotiveTraveler.com

Dumping? Really?

Paul Steinle | Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Alan Mutter makes some excellent points in his article about the challenge of shaping new newspaper-originated products, e.g. iPad-friendly materials. But, maybe the reason its taking some time to master is that it's simply a difficult, challenging transition, filled with vexing trade-offs.
As Mutter points out (and the New York Times, Business Section, Feb. 6, 2012, agrees), The Daily -- a multi-million dollar iPad-targeted initiative financed by News Corporation -- still hasn't conquered this new medium, but it's showing promise).
So, maybe it's going to take a while to develop formats that really are iPad-savvy. And maybe the "delay" in creating these new iPad-centric products is due to a learning curve and a trade-off problem rather than a "why-are-those-newspapers-so-reluctant-to-change" problem?
Too often, folks reporting on the transition of the newspaper industry to a multimedia, multi-platform industry want to cast the newspaper industry as a crew of print-centric Neanderthals, who just don't get the Internet.
Mutter writes: "... publishers dump their print output for consumption on the Web."
Dump is a loaded verb. In fact, the stuff they are accused of "dumping" is the news content that has been collected, vetted and edited by their professional news staff -- so perhaps it has more value that something you'd find at the dump.
More importantly, I've recently visited 50 newspapers across the USA (www.WhoNeedsNewspapers.org), and discovered that none of the papers we visited think they are dumping newspaper-style content on the web. Most of these newspapers, are fronting their websites and mobile apps with breaking news, 18/7 (if not 24/7). And, by the way, the breaking-news lesson is something The Daily seemed to overlook at first on its site, according to The New York Times report.
So Alan Mutter is right on when he says there is a new medium to conquer -- the instant iPad news device. But, more time should be invested in devising tactics publishers can use to enter this new domain (affordably) and make the trade-offs they need to make as a bewildering array of new media alternatives arrive at their doorsteps. The newspaper industry wants to evolve, but the stakes are high and road ahead is baffling at times.

bury the lead

chris | Tuesday, February 7, 2012

You last paragraph revealed the flaw. "Although Pew discovered that four out of five people won't buy news on the iPad." How do you suppose this will help the newspaper industry? Banner ads are no source for real income. Please answer me this, how does giving away (or spending a great deal of money to give away) your product become a sustainable business model?

I'm Shocked! Shocked!

pjbnyc | Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The first two paragraphs perfectly sum up the newspaper industry. I love papers, in all forms. But don't they get it? In the news business, you don't get two years to react. That's not a new timetable. You never did. Get going! Please don't equate new media delivery systems with "dumbing down" your product. It doesn't mean you have to dote on Brittney Spears. Look what Mutter's pointing out--you could create a new evening news product! But you have to think quick and act quick too, and with optimism, not cynicism. I'm "newspaper age" and I think it could be done. Just do it.

I'm Shocked! Shocked!

pjbnyc | Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The first two paragraphs of this story sum up the newspaper industry. I love papers. Papers-on-paper and to the extent I can get them, papers on my computers. I'm not young--I'm a newspaper demographic--and I'm so disappointed and saddened that newspapers haven't picked up the clue phone, which in their case is probaly hardwired a features a rotary dial. You don't get two years to react in the media business today. As a matter of fact, you never did.

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