A Rare Admission Of Failure

I started this year by laying out a step-by-step strategy for how to transform publishing in the age of the iPad. My January article “iDiots’ Guide to Publishing on the iPad” was a hit on Twitter.

Boy, was I wrong.

I dished out a ton of advice, offered specific suggestions about how publishers should cross the chasm to digital publishing, how to engage their readers, and how they should productize it.

For all my good ideas, I fell short by missing the most important element: the hardest thing in the world to change is human nature.

Four months after my article published, GQ, one of my favorite magazines, launched its iPad v2.0 application. It practically nailed every suggestion I had made (no thanks to me, I’m assuming -- it was probably in development months before my article).

And yet… and yet, I never open the app.

I am excited when a new issue arrives in the mail, but I never use it on my iPad. As a technologist, this feels fundamentally wrong. The same guy who has biometric door locks shouldn’t be excited by the arrival of dead trees.

So I sat down to hash out why, offer GQ (and others) some ideas to try, and upgrade my own advice on iPad publishing to v2.0:

1.  Publish early: Publish your iPad release a few days to a week before your print magazine is set to arrive. This will force your early-adopter-heavy, 18-to-35-year-old male demographic to either be patient, or go online (hint: they’re not patient).

2.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should: Take a cue from the device you are running on and keep it simple! Tiny buttons in unreliable places, big cartoonish buttons in others, and left/right/up/down/inconsistent navigation makes it a pain in the ass to consume the content. You are a magazine of cool; you need to be more Urban Daddy and less Angry Birds.

3.  Nobody cares about old magazines: We are passing time, not training to be librarians. We don’t need your backlog of issues on the first screen we see. Bury that in the navigation somewhere and use the first and most important screen to engage us on your latest content.

4.  Know thy subscriber: I am a paying customer, but my app home page has an enormous (and obnoxious) banner asking me to subscribe. As any good salesperson will tell you, once you close, stop selling.

5.  They don’t call it the ADD generation for nothing: The moment I actually open your app with a hope of reading the latest issue, I’m smacked with a 900-megabyte download to get started. On the average flakey public WiFi connections this will take hours, if it finishes at all. Nobody buys cocktails hoping to get laid next week. Figure out how to push the content before the user wants it.

So there you have it, GQ: five easy steps to creating a kickass version 3.0. I got it wrong the last time though, so I would love to hear from our readers.

What do you think it will take for online magazines to surpass paper? Let them know in the comments.


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3 comments about "A Rare Admission Of Failure".
  1. Michael Perham from CrossTech Ventures, LLC , November 17, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.
    David, You can't control 'Human Behaviors'....what are you slipping or what? ;) Great perspective as always! ~ MGP
  2. Brien Downie from UberMedia , November 18, 2011 at 1:12 a.m.
    How about stop publishing like a magazine and start doing something natively digital? The dead trees-like experience will almost undoubtedly be better experienced with dead trees in your hands. For it to work, I think they need to drop the paradigm of monthly issues. They also need to just make it simpler; perhaps license flipboard tech and just publish the content there? Conde is a content company, not a technology company. They have always been behind the times with regard to technology, and I think they always will, frankly. So they need to get out of the technology/usability business and get back to content.
  3. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc. , November 18, 2011 at 4:06 p.m.
    @Brien, interesting perspective. I agree that they will most likely never have a core competency of tech in-house. I also agree that they should shift from a monthly print publication to a stream. David.