iPad Magazine Apps–A Rare Failure

Technology Review Editor Jason Pontin has written an insightful article on why magazine apps on the iPad have been a huge disappointment to publishers–and why TR is abandoning its apps in favor of an HTML 5 web site.

When the iPad came out two years ago, many in the magazine industry, along with Apple itself,  hailed the tablet as the savior of the troubled publication business.  While the iPad has vastly exceeded original expectations for most classes of apps, magazines have been a dismal flop. Pontin explains why better than I ever could, so read his piece.

But I have to admit I am not all that surprised. The goal of most apps seemed to be to recreate the print product in electronic form,  a goal that never felt right. And the apps tended to be big, slow, and buggy.

I still get a bunch of print magazines, but the only publication for which I have a paid online-only subscription is the Kindle Fire edition of The New Yorker.  The New Yorker works as an app better than most simply because it is almost entirely text, laid out in the most boring way imaginable, so the design elements, such as they are, survive. That  said, I actually hate the New Yorker‘s Kindle app. It’s slow and buggy. It violates Kindle user interface standards by requiring a vertical swipe to turn pages; a horizontal swipe takes you to the next or previous article. And it won’t let me rotate the Fire to get that annoying power button out of the way.

But I was surprised by Pontin’s explanation of just how dismal the economics of the app have been. It looks like magazine publishers will have to go on looking for their salvation.