Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post about Newsstand, I had exchanges with a few folks whose work touches the publishing industry. A few themes kept coming back…
1. Newsstand is swell for magazines, not so much for newspapers
Apple requires Newsstand apps to update their icon with every background update. ”This stinks,” Rusty Mitchell told me. Rusty is creative director of Mercury Intermedia, the shop that built the USA Today apps, among many others. He shared some thoughts in an email and generously allowed me to echo them here:
The updating icon might work fine for magazines, where the covers are more simplified and the app more closely matches the print product, but they generally suck for newspapers. Apple created a requirement there that they didn’t think through. For a magazine that releases monthly and has a defined cover, it isn’t a big deal. Newspaper covers tend to be more dense, though. I think the newspaper icons are terrible. They don’t look as good as the standard icons, the branding is minimized, all of the newspaper app icons look too similar, and most damning, the icon is a representation of the days’ paper instead of what will actually be in the app.
Wait, what? The icon doesn’t represent what’s actually in the app? That’s because Newsstand apps are allowed to update in the background only once per day. For apps that update throughout the day (and really, why wouldn’t any media source update more than once?), that means that the icon will quickly become out of sync with its content.
This one-a-day policy also means that background updating doesn’t do much to speed frequently updated apps. It might be fine for The Daily, which releases its content just once per day (a policy I question), but it’s no good at all for outfits with rolling publication. When they launch, those apps will still have to download all the content accumulated since the daily background sync. In those cases, we’ll be stuck with the same load times that we’ve already seen.
2. Who’s in Newsstand and who’s not?
Not all newsy apps make the cut. It sounds like TV news sources won’t be allowed in Newsstand, for example. So now we’re making content/format-based distinctions about what kinds of media are even allowed in the service. It’s murky: The New York Times has video, but they’re allowed; CNN has text articles, but they’re not. Hm. Meanwhile, other organizations simply opt out of Newsstand, balking at Apple’s 30-percent take of subscription sales.
For readers, the result is that we have some of our news apps bolted down in the Newsstand folder, and others aren’t. This arbitrariness could damage non-Newsstand apps. “I don’t like the fact that some news apps can roam free outside of the Newsstand folder,” Rusty wrote me, “but don’t have access to some of the Newsstand features.”
Making this a bit messier for consumers is the fact that the App Store now has its own app category, separate from the News category. Newsstand apps appear in both sections, while non-Newsstand apps appear only in the News category. Confusing.
3. Are issues really so bad?
I had a brief Twitter tête-à-tête today with Mandy Brown, Frank Chimero, and David Sleight about my contention that publishing in editions is quaint and perhaps even arrogant in the digital content. “Issues are the way publishers understand content, not readers,” I wrote. “Issues also create an artifically imposed embargo. Why do I have to wait a week to get an article from Time if it’s already been written?” To which a thoughtful (for Twitter) conversation ensued about whether the problem is really collections of content or just the arbitrary way they’re gathered.
Me, I remain skeptical about the value of bundling articles into frozen blocks of content. For that matter, I’m skeptical that we should always treat articles or stories as the base level of content. I think that being able to address content at finer levels of detail than a page will be increasingly important and useful.
That said, I’ve got no beef with bundling sets of thematic content together; perhaps they’re better called anthologies than issues. (Such anthologies tend to be most useful to me as a reader when the content comes from varied sources.) In any case, I should be able to scan and download those individual articles separately, without being obliged to download an entire issue at once.
In general, I think that publish-all-at-once issues are likely to become the exception rather than the rule. To the extent that they remain, these collections should be the result of a thoughtful editorial conceit, not the arbitrary daily, weekly, or monthly schedule that holds sway now.