Best Practices for Digital Product Design
How to scare away your most loyal customers: Magazine apps and why the Web isn’t dead yet
I need to read. Always have. I can down books a lot faster than most, and I am bereft without something meaningful to read, especially on my frequent business trips.
Anyone who knows me knows I love Vanity Fair as much as I love cyberpunk. They also know I spend a lot of time evaluating user experience (UX) for magazine apps, and all sorts of other digital products. So what does it mean when someone like me, who can’t go without reading material for a day, AND owns an iPad, is unwilling to entrust my reading addiction to digital while on the road?
On this trip – to the renowned IXDA/Interaction conference, in Boulder this year – I decided to go paperless. Download the Lady Gaga issue of VF, which I’d missed, download Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash for an umpteenth read (appropriate, since IXD11′s closing speaker is cyberpunk icon Bruce Sterling). And in both cases, I wished I’d brought print.
Recently we saw a FOLIO: newsletter item: “The web is over,” stated with gravitas. While I have a lot of respect for FOLIO:, and was often a lone voice for digital in the dark days of the last decade, I have to say: Not so fast. Because the Perfect Storm of conflicting app user experience standards, revenue models, and plain old new technology growing pains continues to under-serve magazine readers.
So, to keep this short: The only advantage of buying VF’s Lady Gaga issue as an app was the availability of the content. Downsides: Excessive download time, and having no clue how far along the download actually was. Having to guess at where the Gaga article was located in the app, since the TOC wouldn’t take me me there. Having to choose between viewing photos and using a readable version of the article.
Now for the Kindle app: I had to go back to the Amazon store three times to make sure Snow Crash had downloaded. (My bank had no trouble tracking the charge, just so you know.)
Meantime, my business partner, digital media veteran Sean Fitzpatrick, sends me this email: “An interesting observation in the comments on Ad Age (note the link to the NY Times article about iPad digital downloads): “An interesting counterpoint to the Wired newsstand sales increase (via Nick Bilton): “This morning I decide to try a little experiment: I opened up my iPad, clicked on the little Wired icon and purchased the magazine’s latest digital issue… For the next phase of the experiment I drove about 12 blocks to a local magazine store in Brooklyn, where I also purchased the latest issue of Wired magazine, this time in print…when I returned home with the glossy paper product in hand, the digital iPad version still hadn’t finished downloading to my iPad. Anybody who reads Wired would call this an Epic Fail. (http://nyti.ms/hh1g8Z) .”
So. I go to the Vanity Fair website and have a good experience. I am less happy with the app. Yet as a digital media analyst, I know that organizations need to think of their websites as a “container” of apps. And until the magazine publishers solve the user experience problems we readers are dealing with now, neither the web, nor print, will be dead. They will simply fail to meet their potential.