Are Publishers Failing on Tablets?

The tablet experience for most magazines means that elegant designs and rich content are undermined by static 96-page PDFs that can take anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour to download. The last time I checked, no one wants to download an entire website to get one page. So why do publishers still make readers download an entire magazine? And why do they insist on delivering their content in 30-day packages that are often written months in advance? In our Twitter-speed world, magazine content can sometimes feel like it’s from another planet.

And that’s the core problem. Tablet readers expect the best of both worlds. They want real-time content and Web-like interactivity within a user-friendly brand experience that “feels” like the same brand found on the Web and in print. This tablet-ization is signaling an industry overhaul, especially given the recent news regarding tablet’s soaring usage: The share of website traffic from tablets grew more than 300 percent in the past year.

It’s easier said than done. In a recent MIT Technology Review article, Jason Pontin discusses the challenges that his own organization had creating a tablet app, including wasting $124,000 on custom development. I applaud his transparency with regard to his tablet-app misses and lessons learned. However, the MIT Technology Review’s approach to its app was built on legacy technology that doomed the app from the start.

A few important technology trends are happening right now that can help publishers and content marketers get there. First, it’s no secret that tablet usage is soaring. IDC projects tablet shipments of 106 million in 2012, up from its previous forecast of nearly 88 million. Additionally, advances in cloud-based platforms, mobile content management systems and standard Web technologies, such as HTML5, CSS and Javascript, have converged to create a huge opportunity for publishers — and content marketers alike — to deliver content in a new way to tablet readers.

Here are four things that publishers can do to deliver tablet apps that combine the elegance of print with the immediacy of Twitter-speed content:  

Publish from the Cloud to Multiple Devices
Most publishers already have iPhone and Android apps that are straight replicas of their print editions. But they are often separate installations and need to be updated, managed and analyzed as completely separate apps. This approach can get complicated and time-consuming quickly. The dream of publishing once and having that content “automagically” reaching all devices has arrived. By publishing first in the cloud, content can be published, managed and monetized all in one place with fully integrated mobile analytics. Publishers need to think holistically about their mobile applications overall and manage them from one place: the cloud.

Curate Content for Mobile
As a publisher, you have thousands of pieces of content from multiple sources, and you’re not going to earn reader engagement by giving them everything all at once. Understand your audience, how they consume content in the lean-back tablet experience and serve up the content that is most interesting and immersive in the form of slide shows or video clips. If their GPS is enabled, then offer content that has a local angle. Or if they are only reading stories about politics, then serve up that content first to make their experiences as personalized and relevant as possible.

Decouple Content from Design for Flexibility
When content is decoupled from the design, it offers publishers several benefits. First, they do not have to lay out each article separately. Editors can choose the branded template they wish to use for their content — without touching the design code — and they can make changes on the fly without breaking the design. Designers, on the other hand, can create layouts in standard Web protocols that give editors many options from which to choose.

Think Beyond a Static Page
Tablets today not only give publishers a larger canvas to publish their content on, but they also offer the same rich interactivity of the Web. Publishers need to take advantage of these technologies and consumers’ digital behaviors to promote their content and distribute their apps with features such as social sharing, “favoriting,” creating “most read” or “most shared” categories of content and search.

It’s time for publishers to create apps that are easy to manage and maintain while still owning the context around their content and maximizing monetization — and for readers to enjoy more engaging, personalized experiences. And let’s not forget advertisers. By creating a more appealing experience, they’ll be able to more effectively reach their target audiences in new and powerful ways. It’s time for publishers to come back to Earth and create tablet experiences that their readers are craving.

Rahul Patel is co-founder of GENWI.

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