I had the pleasure of interviewing TypeEngine’s co-founder Jamie Smyth for my latest article up at Tech.pinions about Apple’s Newsstand and app reviews.
I was only able to use a few quotes in the Tech.pinions piece, but Jamie’s insights into Newsstand publishing were too good not to publish, so I’ve published them here.
Ultimately the responsibility to retain subscribers is up to the publication. They need to produce content of a quality and on a schedule that resonates with their readers. There any number of things that can result in a publication to lose subscribers over time, but I don’t think the mechanics of using Newsstand is one of those factors.
Even though TypeEngine (full disclosure, I own it) supports both Newsstand and “standalone” apps, I don’t see any reason to hate Newsstand. I can think of a few reasons why a publication might want to do a Newsstand app over a standalone app, but those reasons are getting fewer. The biggest one at this point is the cover art. Large publications typically invest heavily in their cover art for each edition and they might want to leverage that artwork so long as the type is large enough to be appropriate at icon size.
In the end, I don’t think Newsstand itself is to be blamed for any publication’s loss of subscribers.
The only features that I personally wish Apple would implement in this regard are: a) larger cover art viewing option in Newsstand. b) much (MUCH) better sandbox testing environment. c) Fix the ability to slipstream restore an auto renewable in app purchase when someone attempts to purchase something they have already purchased.
I’ll explain each.
Larger/Different Viewing Options in Newsstand
As I mentioned, most serious print publications invest a lot of money in their cover. But most print covers are unreadable at such a small icon size as Apple displays in Newsstand. I personally wish Apple would implement a couple of view options like they do in iBooks. I would suggest List, Icons, Large Icons. I think that would result in a better experience for the user and frustrate fewer publishers who want to reuse their cover art.
Better Testing Tools
This one goes out to my fellow devs. It’s extremely painful to test auto renewable in app purchases in sandbox mode. Nuff said.
Slipstream Restore of Subscription
When we first shipped The Loop Magazine by Jim Dalrymple, we shipped with a horrible, horrible bug. It was our fault but it was exacerbated by the unreliability of sandbox. Let me explain.
When a user makes a normal in app purchase in an app, deletes the app, reinstalls the app, and then tries to purchase the IAP again, it simply gets restored without charging the user again. All signs point to Subscription in app purchases functioning the same way. Nope. Without getting too deep into it, it’s a bug with Apple’s system - one that I personally brought to their attention in person at WWDC. Still not fixed. The net result is that every Newsstand app must have both a “Subscribe” button and and “Restore Subscription” button. Most apps with IAP’s do have a “Restore” button, but it’s usually relegated to the Settings panel. That’s not really possible with a Newsstand app and I wish Apple would fix that.
Editor’s note: Jamie followed up via email with a final addition to the list
Promo codes for subscriptions
There is currently NO WAY to give someone a promo code for a free subscription to a magazine app. That HAS to change.
Push Notifications are huge. They bring the content to the user and remind them of the new adventures that are just a swipe away. Our TypeEngine apps actually send two push notifications automatically when a new issue is published. One is an invisible one and wakes up the app and tells it to download the new issue in the background. We delay sending the visible one by a few minutes to give the app a chance to finish download the issue. That way, when the user sees the notification, the content is (should be) already there.
We also give the publisher the ability to customize the push notification so that it doesn’t just say “New Issue of Jamie’s Snazzy Magazine Available” every time.
Regarding prompting the user for reviews, it’s a solved problem in my opinion. The publisher wants reviews, but they only want good reviews. You can subtly guide the user to leave a review if they like the app, and send you an email if the user sees a problem. Guidelines: - If you decide to pop up the prompt to rate the app (which I don’t recommend) only do so once. Ever. - In the settings panel show an action something like “Love our app? Leave a review” and guide the user to rate the app. - Also in the settings panel shows an action something like “Having trouble? Drop us a line and we’ll get right on it” and pop up an email pre-populated with your support email. The trick is to answer those emails or else those people will leave you a bad review.
I still recommend Newsstand to publishers because
that’s how I make money I believe in it as a great content delivery system. Since there is now precious little difference between the workings of a Newsstand app, and since we at TypeEngine support shipping both Newsstand and “standalone” apps, the question is really up to the publisher. To me the question is: Is it more important to you to use your cover art for each issue? Or is it more important to you to possibly have your icon reside on the home screen of the user’s device. That’s the only real differentiator anymore.
We typically stay out of the marketing initiatives of our publishers, but I do know they all are different. Small indie publishers usually just put up a link on their web site and post on their social networks. Some have existing newsletters that they use to get the word out.
Larger organizations will run ad campaigns in Facebook’s iOS app and Twitter.
Smart organizations who are in a particular niche will find existing media outlets in the same vertical to help drive downloads. For instance, a dog magazine has purchased some ad space on a couple of dog web sites, and that seems to have helped.
We have been asked by Apple to share the details of quite a few TypeEngine magazine apps and Apple wound up featuring them in the App Store, so that’s always nice.
This gets back to the same point that, really, content will make or break a publication. Some of our publications have done remarkably well. As you can imagine, I’m not at liberty to discuss details, but some people are making a living from selling TypeEngine Newsstand apps. And that’s what does it for me. There are so many writers with so many great stories to tell. If we can provide an affordable platform that will enable authors and publishers to support themselves so that they can devote their heart and mind to producing the wonderful content we all love, then my work is done here. And if it doesn’t hurt if the apps don’t suck.
I personally read the following Newsstand apps:
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN by Thomas Deneuville - It’s a contemporary classical music magazine. In case you’re wondering what “contemporary classical music” is, it’s classical music that was written by people who are not dead. The magazine is magnificent and even won an award this year.
There really are two aspects to this: the future of reading on iOS, and the future of publishing to iOS. I’ll address each of them separately. When we set out to make TypeEngine we knew that we wanted the platform to be capable of generating beautiful, easy to read apps - one that reflected all of the design sensibilities of the publisher. We also refused to kowtow to the ridiculous old “print replica” albatross the circulation agencies have strapped to the big magazine publishers’ necks. We wanted to provide a comprehensible, beautiful reading experience for readers and a flexible, themeable, collaborative platform for publishers.
I want people to have a seamless experience getting and reading the content that they love on their iOS devices. And I’m not just talking about on the iPad (God, I hate when I hear people say “TABLET magazines”) - I’m talking about on their phone too.
I want people to be able to open an app and to immerse themselves in the smorgasbord of content that they know is waiting for them. I don’t want the reader to be accosted by yans (Yet Another News Stand) when they open the app. Fun fact: When we demo’ed TypeEngine to some Apple execs in April, the first thing they said was, “ohh, it opens directly into the content. Finally someone gets it.” Best. Demo. Ever.
I want people to be able to actually download an issue in a reasonable amount of time over a cell connection. Because mobile.
I want people to not have to use a magnifying glass or pinch/zoom/pan just to read a magazine on their iPhone.
I want people to read longform content on iOS. I don’t think gimmicks like things flying around the screen while I’m trying to read is a good experience. I certainly don’t want ridiculous “page” turning animations.
I want people to enjoy reading longform content on their iOS devices, and I think TypeEngine helps move the industry in that direction.
When we set out to make TypeEngine we knew that we wanted the platform to be capable of generating beautiful, easy to read apps - one that reflected all of the design sensibilities of the publisher. But we refused to kowtow to the old “print replica” ridiculous albatross the circulation agencies have strapped to the big magazine publishers. We wanted to provide a comprehensible, beautiful reading experience for readers and a flexible, themeable, collaborative platform for publishers.
On the design side we included support for custom typography, open design standards like CSS, and invented a Wordpress-like theming engine so that publishers could style their app how they like and really stand out. We built in support for multiple article templates to accommodate running series like “Letter From The Editor” or “Picks of The Week” that would have a different design.
But one tenet that we have stuck with is the idea that layout must be separated from content. Ever since Gutenberg, producing content has been intrinsically linked with deciding exactly where on the page that content would appear. This is 2013 and digital publishers no longer have the luxury of knowing the size, orientation, or resolution of the device that will be representing their content. (Karen McGrane’s wonderful book Content Strategy for Mobile should be mentioned here.) So it was super important for the content to flow nicely no matter the device size or orientation.
From a functional standpoint, we allow publishers to either provide their content for free and go ad-supported and/or charge for their subscription. We refused to proscribe a particular publishing scheduled on the publishers, allowing them to publish content on any schedule they like.
We’ve had hundred’s of thousands of downloads of our apps now and over 53% of the readers are reading on a phone and only 47% on a tablet. Print publishers who simply recycle their print artifacts like PDF’s or InDesign Folios and shoehorn them in to a magazine app are either producing a dreadful, dreadful reading experience for their phone users (magnifying glass anyone?), doubling their work to reproduce phone-sized PDF’s, or are simply ignoring 53% of their potential readers.
With a nod to our print heritage, we have left the gimmicks out of TypeEngine: Nothing flying around the screen while the user is reading. No absurd animations or ridiculous “page” turning. Just an easy-on-the-eyes reading experience that’s both respectful of tradition and modern media aware.
However, there are a few traps that some publishers can fall into. One of them is allowing a platform to publish the app under the platform’s account with Apple. We submit publisher’s apps under the publisher’s own iTunes Connect account. In addition to allowing Apple to pay the publisher directly, this has another huge benefit. Think about the lifespan of the magazine app down the road. Should the publisher want to change from one platform to another or possibly replace the magazine app with one that they had custom developed, if the app is not in the app store under their own account, the publisher doesn’t have access to update it. More importantly, they have little to no access to all the subscribers. They’d need to submit the new magazine app under a new account and try (beg?) their subscribers to go download another app and subscribe to it through various other channels. Perhaps a banner on their web site. Terrible.
I know what you’re thinking: “But Jamie… Apple just came out with the ability to transfer apps. Couldn’t I just ask that platform to transfer my app to my account later?” Nope. Apple doesn’t allow transferring ownership of apps that have auto renewing subscriptions, which most Newsstand apps have. See here and scroll down to “Transferring An App”. If the platform company is allowed to submit a publisher’s magazine app under the platform company’s account, the publisher is locked in. Forever.
Digital Newsstand publishing is still young and it’s not going anywhere but up. 27% of preschoolers in America have their own iPad. Combine that with the fact that people are consuming more longform content in digital form than ever. Just because Newsstand is currently chock full of suck apps is not a reflection on Newsstand itself, nor is it an indicator that Newsstand apps are a bad idea. It just adds more poignancy to the point: If you’re going to do it, do it right. And we like to think that TypeEngine is part of the solution.
My latest piece for Tech.pinions discusses the hullaballoo around App Store reviews, Apple’s lack of attention to Newsstand and its effect on magazine apps, and how it’s not Apple’s job to make you look good.
The WiPower charging method and Mirasol display look cool, but watch the video and you’ll understand my disdain for the smartwatch concept.
The beauty of the mobile phone and even Google Glass is in how they only require one hand to operate.
The watch will always require two-handed use - one hand to turn downward and display the watch face and one to actually interact with the display. It’s a flawed form factor that’s supposed to make things easier for the user, but how easy will it be to juggle a cup of coffee in one hand while trying to check text messages in the other?
PS: voice dictation is not the answer.
I’ve been having major problems with the battery life indicator on my iPhone 5. My battery drains to nothing in 3-4 hours and once it reaches about 20%, the phone just turns off.
I ran Lawrence Finch’s fix near the top of this Apple support page and so far it’s been working well. I’ve had my phone off the charger for eight hours and I’m only at 40%.
If you’re struggling with a buggy iPhone 5 battery, give this a try.
I couldn’t stop laughing. Also, this service seems crazy dangerous for both the driver and the passenger(s), but apparently it’s working.