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Saturday
Apr102010

Aggregated Media Beats One-Off Titles in the iPad App Store

In thinking about content for the iPad (books, magazines, movies, etc.) my instincts and experience tell me that having a unique product in the App Store should drive more sales than an app that aggregates premium content. That's because I believe the value of keyword search is greater than the value of aggregation  - it becomes difficult to effectively list all the aggregated content on the app's sales page and harder for consumers to find that content.

Apparently, I was wrong.

Digital magazine provider Zinio just became the number one app in the iPad news category, beating out all other magazine and news titles. (Disclosure: Zinio is a client of mine.)

There are those in the social graph that have been panning individual apps for magazines like GQ, Men's Health, Outside, etc. While they're all great publications, the usefulness of having an icon dedicated to a single publication seems excessive for the privilege of reading an issue.

Furthermore, a magazine title arguably has a limited shelf-life. Sure, there's some evergreen content in just about every publication, but currency is always an important factor in selling magazines. With that in mind, it's tough to justify spending the same amount of money on a single issue of a magazine as it is to spend it on, say, an application that will provide utility for months or even years.

I never doubted the success of Zinio on iPad (I wouldn't have taken them on as a client otherwise). They have the largest selection of digital magazines anywhere and have developed a platform for making magazines more than simply digital replicas of printed magazines, but fully interactive (at the publisher's discretion, of course). So, other than the variety of titles they provide, why have they become so successful after only a week beyond the arrival of the iPad?

Consider this: When is a number not just a number? When it's next to another. 

That's to say that relative cost - and relative value - creates confusion in the mind of a consumer. By allowing the shopping process to take place within the Zinio app (and/or on Zinio.com), magazines are now priced alongside other magazines. That comparison is much more relevant than, say, weighing the price of an app against the price of a magazine.

So, does that mean that Zinio will be less successful over time as more individual magazine apps enter the App Store, thereby creating a better environment for relative comparison? Hardly.

In addition to offering a variety of titles, Zinio brings consistency of usability. The expectation that a digital magazine will behave a certain way is important to a consumer. If each time you purchased an ebook - from Amazon, B&N or Apple, for instance - would you expect the experience to be radically different. Of course not.

However, at least at the moment, that appears to be the case with digital magazine apps. As publishers are still only just experimenting with their own applications, they're also experimenting with the user experience, each with their own approach.

In the aggregated media application model that Zinio provides, magazines will have interactivity and rich media, but the user experience will remain consistent with only the occasional experimental feature.

Ultimately, competitors may follow Zinio in their format but that can only be bode well for magazines as a category. After a period of decline in consumption of printed magazines, it means that people will have found them relevant again - only in digital form.

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Reader Comments (3)

With your thinking, we should aggregate everything then. Problem is, you're still searching in the aggegate, which Zinio does not allow in their app. Also, it's a free app so of course Zinio will be most downloaded, for curiosity sake. But, once someone goes in the app, they will discover they are led out of App store into Zinio. That's a great way to lose a customer quickly. Finally, why would publishers and designers want to be restained by Zinio format, and then gain less revenue from a sale?

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge H.

Hi, George.

With your thinking, we should aggregate everything then.

Well, yes, but not necessarily as you might think. Apple should probably aggregate all magazines as a media type in the iTunes Store so that meaningful comparisons can be made, without apps confusing the purchase decision.

Problem is, you're still searching in the aggegate, which Zinio does not allow in their app.

Yes. This is disappointing, but I'm sure Search will come to the Zinio app in a revision. It's a natural addition.

Also, it's a free app so of course Zinio will be most downloaded, for curiosity sake. But, once someone goes in the app, they will discover they are led out of App store into Zinio. That's a great way to lose a customer quickly.

The free download model is no different than what Men's Health does, for example. The app is free but an issue must be purchased in-app. I'm not sure I understand how a customer would be be lost? I don't know specifics but I can tell you that Zinio sales are strong.

Finally, why would publishers and designers want to be restained by Zinio format, and then gain less revenue from a sale?

I can't speak to your revenue share comment as I don't know the details of Zinio's agreements with its publisher partners. That said, a cash purchase of an issue or subscription is more important for ABC audits. The cash generated is minimal compared to the advertising revenue. And since ABC has recognized Zinio and it's format as worthy of inclusion in an audit, publisher partners are already further ahead rather than having to work with ABC to have their unique format approved.

As to the Zinio format, it's fairly robust should a publisher want to experiment. That said, how much experimentation will readers tolerate? Some of the magazine titles currently in the app store remind me more of CD-ROMs from the early nineties rather than magazines. Can they keep up those high production values month-after-month? More importantly, is that where there strengths lie?

(Written on my iPad) ;)

April 11, 2010 | Registered Commenterjf

I believe Zinio holds great promise, but the fluff out there right now about it claiming to be "reviews" usually forget to mention that the performance of the initial application is terrible-- which is the first response anyone should have to this application. Not mentioning how SLOW it is renders all commentary on the application to be completely unreliable. Pages take 3-5 seconds to load, which is unacceptable. Flipping through a magazine is impossible.

Reading through the reviews on the App store, this is the #1 complaint. If Zinio is your client, they should get out in front of this and announce what improvements are coming. If they aren't coming, they should fire half their programmers and hire new ones. Probably not a bad idea anyway. But alas, communication will probably be poor, and this comment will probably be moderated away....

April 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew
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