Both Playboy and Rolling Stone magazines are using a sophisticated HTML5 platform to bring their full back-issue archives to tablet and Web users. Avoiding the content restrictions and the limited access to subscriber data in Apple’s App Store, the Web-based approach allows the two brands to go direct to consumers with these offerings, yet retain an app-like functionality. Their technology provider Bondi Digital has now released the HTML5 platform for wider use and is developing its capabilities for a wider selection of Web browsers and devices.
HTML5 can give digital magazine archives the look and feel of a dedicated tablet app, but within a browser. Playboy magazine used the model early this summer to launch its full archives for iPad outside the reach of iTune’s nudity-averse censors. But more recently, Rolling Stone magazine also used the platform to put its entire historical run of 1,100 issues in a browser-based iPad-only format.
While most of the archival material in the Web-based apps are straight digitizations of the original printed pages, the navigation and search interfaces for the pubs are not. The Playboy archive uses drop-down overlays, display reorientation, pinch and zoom and touch mechanics as well as seamlessly embedded video with much the same polish as an app. The Bondi Archive Platform is a proprietary touch viewer developed by the company to work in the iOS browser. The company is now offering it in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product to publishers.
Playboy's archive is available only through the iPad’s Safari browser, but it is coming to the Web soon. Rolling Stone is accessible both on iPad and in an HTML5-enabled browser at www.RollingStone.com/allaccess. Bondi says the platform will also support any device with a mobile browser, including the upcoming Kindle Fire and Android tablets.
Playboy charges $8 a month or $60 annually for visitors to access the full archives on their iPad. Rolling Stone is making the archives a value add for subscribers only. Playboy Chief Content Officer Jimmy Jellinek calls the iPAd archive “already a resounding success” commercially.
Wenner Media tells Online Media Daily that its Rolling Stone archives are performing in line with their expectations. When originally offered as a PC-only product in April 2010, the magazine used the archives as a value add for subscription renewals. Unlike Playboy, which had to find a way to reach iOS users without Apple's scrutiny, Wenner says it did not develop a Web archive to circumvent Apple. With the update that added iPad support this summer, the archives also improved search capabilities and image rendering and have now made access available to all current print subscribers.
By using HTML5, Playboy was able to skirt the iOS App Store rules that restrict adults. It also enables publishers to circumvent the 30% revenue share on app revenues exacted by Apple. For print publishers, having direct access to their customer base and data is even more valuable than subscriptions. Apple has been famously reticent to share app-related user data with its content partners, and so many publishers see HTML5-based alternatives as an important route to maintaining and leveraging these relationships.
HTML5-based “Web apps” have a number of inherent advantages over dedicated apps. A Web approach is discoverable through general mobile search, while app content is not. The pages in these archives, for example, all have discrete URLs than can be indexed by Google and other search engines. The platform can create both an abstract and thumbnail for each article behind the pay wall so it is visible to search. And unlike apps, which require new versions to include feature upgrades and bug fixes, Web apps can be changed on the fly so that all users experience the same features and content effortlessly.
Along with Playboy and Rolling Stone archives, Financial Times has also taken an HTML5 route. The company’s iPad-friendly site has much the same interface and functionality as its previous iOS app, which FT eventually removed from the App Store. For FT that strategy paid off, as it reported over 700,000 people had accessed the Web app in its first month -- more than had used its native iOS app.