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Publishers shouldn't be app developers (37signals.com)
76 points by ph0rque 1578 days ago | hide | past | web | 35 comments | favorite

App for that, app for this .... Every grocery store, every department store have an app. I am so overwhelmed. I don't want to use any app other than a browser.

I feel like companies tend to abuse every new communication channel they have to the customer.

radio - commercials, tv - commercials, mail - spam, e-mail - spam, phone - cold calling, text - spam, web - banners, social media - ads, apps - useless apps,

All of these channels have been abused by companies until channel gets too inefficient, costly, or regulated.

The way we read news hasn't changed much since early 2000s. It shouldn't be like this anymore; it is age of curated and personalized content. Every time I launch a newspaper app, I feel like wasting my time since I care only about 10% of the news offered on my screen.

That's why Flipboard + Google Reader is such a great combination.

Exactly. If there's nothing your app does except act as a "nicer" front end to your website, it doesn't deserve to be an app.

Take the Newegg app, for instance. It is literally a mobile site served up in PhoneGap. They could just make that their default stylesheet for mobile web and it would both perform better and be a better experience for their users, who now don't have to download yet another app to use a website they'll visit once or twice a year.

Done right offline reading is a valuable feature for news apps (proper Newspapers), particularly for traveling (flying) or when roaming so that you can refresh on wifi and use without roaming charges.

The apps also serve as a bookmark. Although I use bookmarks in my desktop browsers, I usually just type wherever I want to go. That isn't really feasible on mobile browsers and I don't even bother with mobile bookmarks.

For the Newegg app they do have barcode scanning built in (Android version) which isn't possible as a website.

Worse than that is that you lose the value of the hyperlink. WebIntents and Intents on Android are an attempt to "fix" this, but native apps are not really designed with the concept of hyperlinks in mind, that IMHO is the most unfortunate loss with native apps.

The Apple native app ecosystem is the equivalent of AOL in the mid-90s. It doesn't play well with the one feature that made the web so immensely valuable.

I work in "publishing"... and we have to develop mobile apps because advertisers want to display ads on mobile apps. They want interstitial with video, they want fullscreen ads...

It's sad and it's wrong for the user's experience but we just have to do this. If we don't have our mobile apps, advertisers will give their money to competitors.

I won't send a link to our crappy apps, they are too crappy indeed.

I'm counting down to the announcement that Marco Arment's The Magazine has been purchased for x-million dollars and is being turned into a platform to scratch this exact itch.

They shouldn't be web developers either. I get extremely frustrated every time I go to a site that has built its own custom responsive design framework for mobile devices that takes 5 seconds to load and doesn't follow web UI conventions (I'd much rather scroll down then flip pages when reading an article). </rant>

I agree with the points made in this article. Most publishers' apps really do suck. The startup that I'm currently working for (http://storydesk.com) is solving this problem by building a product which makes it simpler for publishers to drag and drop image and video assets, and type in their text to create native feeling content "apps" using a web based tool. The publisher's content can then be viewed in a native iPad player app which has a fast, consistent user experience.

Apparently this is the hot-button issue at 37signals today. (There's another blog post by Ryan on the same topic.)

As commented on that other post: I recently researched tools that are designed to help people make book or magazine apps (mobile apps). There are many options. I decided to share my findings here:


I think the issues are a lot more complex than portrayed by simple iPad magazine apps are crap sentiments. The platforms around today (disclaimer, I am the co-founder of one of them, Oomph) do allow designers to do silly things, but conversely, they allow designers to do amazing things that would not previously be possible without low level coding. The results are outstanding, and most customers love them, we certainly get a great deal of positive feedback from the readers of the magazines we help publish. Most of these platforms (well ours does) also use HTML, as well as other features (we have one called text objects) that allow rendering on multiple resolutions with smaller download sizes.

I think The Magazine is awesome on a number of levels, but it also comes from a certain viewpoint, one that most traditional publishers cannot embrace without breaking the way they currently do business. Marco has been able to do build himself a new platform with essentially no constraints (aside from his upfront time & money investment obviously), utilising a new business model, a luxury print publishers may not have. He has also been able to build himself the infrastructure required to complete this, this is not expertise most publishing houses have, and he's publishing in HTML, a lot of publishers don't have the tools or expertise to produce HTML content to the quality they're looking for.

The big opportunity here is for publishers to embrace this new medium wholeheartedly, not with their traditional mags/brands, but with new ones built specifically for digital. In my view, publishers & other "traditional" content owners should be funding skunkworks projects that cannibalise their own market before someone else does (something Apple continues to do for example).

A dual pronged approach where they continue to leverage their existing brands, mags, etc. but branch out into newer markets & business models by repurposeing & utilising their existing content is a win-win scenario.

While I agree in spirit (see my post http://interfacelab.com/is-this-really-the-future-of-magazin... ) his assumptions are pretty wrong. Most of these magazine apps are built on one of three platforms, the biggest of which comes from Adobe. Almost all of these platforms are tied into Adobe inDesign as the authoring tool. Why hire actual iOS developers when your designers can export out of the tool they use to design the actual magazine?

So what he really is complaining about is Adobe's shitty platform. Good luck getting old paper to change their current workflows.

I work on and maintain a few non-magazine apps for a very large publisher and it's a very laborious approval process that moves at a snails pace. Thank god for day rates and retainerships.

I thought this is the problem Adobe's Digital Publishing solution is meant to solve.


Its expensive. I think I calculated it at the cheapest its $4000 per year. And you pay per issue and per user and per download, so the cost adds up pretty quick.

When money is the issue, look at http://twixlmedia.com

The New Yorker on iOS is a great example. It's an atrocious app. Each issue takes >100MB, there's no font resizing or dark mode, and articles are laid out such that 1/3rd of the screen is white space.

A magazine-porting framework for iOS and Android would rock. Sales would be tough, though--you'd probably have to partner closely with Conde Nast or another big publisher for v1.0, and...well, good luck with that.

Didn't Adobe partner with Conde Nast to leverage AIR for magazines? (I believe this was quickly scuttled after Jobs's missive on Flash.)

I am the lead developer for Treesaver (http://treesaver.net) and we have recently been working with a great team in Milan, Italy to try and offer a solution to this problem. http://savory.io

It's not perfect yet but we have a great roadmap and hope to have all the major features publishers need in the near future.

Thanks, Kevin! Treesaver provides an app-like HTML publication experience, where content is divided into pages. It's responsive, and the layout adapts with Treesaver's JS algorithm to fit any size screen.

The result works on every browser. Savory hosts content for publishers, and provides design themes. See http://chainamag.com for a working site. Savory has a great CMS based on Locomotive.

The most robust Treesaver publication is Sporting News, http://tablet.sportingnews.com, which is designed primarily as an iPad app available through the Apple Newsstand. This magazine gets as big as 1,500 pages (iPad size) daily—with a 5:00 pm update! All this is done with no more staff than a typical web site. The web edition enables readers to share content with anyone with a browser and a connection to the net.

By this logic app developers shouldn't publish books because some turn out bad. I think 37signals might take issue with that, rework or not.

Someone should build an uber-App that others can create add-ons for. I (or my location) will choose the profile I want (a.k. 'Shopping, Groceries, Sports, Outdoor, Travelling,Family-day-out, whatever). I'll only see (or add) what I'm in the mood for.

Here's a startup to save the world in this matter: https://www.snapplify.com

I'm not affiliated with them, but they fixed exactly what this article complains about with my one friend's publishing service.

There are tons of Tablet Publishing solutions around. The designer don't need to know how to program. My favorite is Twixl Publisher for this kind of projects. (http://twixlmedia.com)

The Time Out NY app is fantastic. As in this one:


So what's the deal with the horrible magazine one?

Awfully off-topic, but it's their 3333rd post. Quite a run for a company blog.

Good content generation is one reason 37signals is doing so well.

IEEE publishes their content digitally via Qmags. http://www.qmags.com

Their iOS app is custom-branded, but still Qmags-powered.

I wonder why more publishers don't go this route...

Qmags is godawful, in my opinion. There is no earthly reason they can't just give me a PDF.

Table of contents? PDFs have that.

Navigation? PDFs have that.

Metadata? Oh for the love of pete, PDFs have that.

Qmag adds nothing to the experience and the client is slow and annoying.

Is this planting a seed regarding their new app thats in development? :)

Agreed that theres a ton of wasted effort in this space. Something along the lines of apples Newsstand has so much pitential.

Other than the browser as a common delivery platform, do we really think that every publisher will happily join hands and standardize on one native magazine app?

A lot of publishers aren't app developers, they're just using existing technologies which aren't the best, or using them for mixed levels of success.

this is along the lines of what http://www.inkling.com is trying to solve (for books, not magazines)

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