Apple's Newsstand is one year old. Does it deserve a cake?
12th Oct 2012 | 12:00
What's great and not so great about Apple's newsagent
Electronic books, magazines and newspapers have been the next big thing for as long as I can remember: I've squinted at them on Palms and Psions, PCs and Pocket PCs, and in every case the experience was pretty horrible.
E-reading couldn't even put words on screen in a nice way, let alone display something as complicated and wonderful as a magazine.
It turns out that to deliver a decent electronic reading experience, you need two things: a decent screen, and an easy way to get the content.
The Amazon Kindle cracked that, but while newspapers and magazines are available for Amazon's e-reader they're pale imitations of the real things; publishers have tried various other platforms from PDFs to enormous executable applications, but nothing really stuck.
Part of the problem, I'm sure, is that desktop computers, keyboards and mice don't lend themselves to magazine reading: you need something that enables you to swoop and swipe at the pages. You really need a tablet - and that tablet really needs to be part of an e-reading ecosystem that makes it really easy to find, buy and update your publications.
That's what Apple's tried with Newsstand. One year on, is it working?
I read the news today, oh joy
Like a whole heap of Newsstand magazines, TechRadar is published by a company called Future. As Future's Mike Goldsmith told InPublishing, there are two kinds of Newsstand magazines: there are digital replicas, which are essentially the printed title repackaged in a tappable, swipeable tablet format, and there are interactive editions, which can add panoramas, videos and other goodies. Which is better? Goldsmith asks. "the only logical response is 'both'."
I think he's right, for the time being at least. A lot of Newsstand magazines are digital replicas, and that's fine: the format works really well on a tablet, and I'd happily read my favourite mags that way. However in the longer term I think interactive editions are the way forward for many kinds of titles.
I'm old enough to remember the dark days of interactive CD-ROM magazines, and I'm in no hurry to resurrect those horrors, but when interactive elements are used wisely it breathes new life into magazines.
The digital editions of T3, Tap!* and new title Photography Week make great use of interactivity - they're somewhere between magazines and apps, taking the best bits of both to create something genuinely useful and exciting.
Titles don't need to be about tech to benefit, either. I love Car magazine for its great writing and extraordinary photography, but wouldn't it be great if I could look more closely at those landscapes, spin the cars around and hear those engines roar?
The technology isn't quite there yet - tablets are still awfully thick and heavy, although of course that'll change, and if you aren't on an iOS device you're locked out of the Newsstand party - but it's pretty close, and at last electronic magazines are genuinely desirable things in their own right rather than clunky imitations of their printed counterparts.
The most exciting thing of all, I think, is that Newsstand isn't just preaching to the converted: it's bringing in new readers. At a time when print publications are finding it harder and harder - supermarkets are taking over from newsagents in many areas, and they can't and won't stock everything - that's a rare bit of good news.
As Goldsmith says: "Future's research shows that 90% of its readers on Newsstand are new readers, whether it's digital replica or interactive edition, with only 20% being based in the UK. These are new audiences in new lands and with new needs."
* I write for Tap!, but that's not why I think it's great.