Why We’re Not Appy at C+T …

By now, you’ll have noticed that the C+T web site has a brand new look. Undertaken by Wide Open Media, it is based on a “responsive design” template. What this means is that in most cases (and I say “most” because nothing is 100% on the Internet), the content and layout will automatically adapt itself to the screen size and device of the end user.

What this enables is free and immediate access to our content to anyone who wants it on whatever device they want to use. There are no downloads, no updates and nothing for the reader to think about. Combined with our weekly email newsletter (sign up here), it is a powerfully simple means of connecting our readers with content and advertisers.

Some years ago here at Content+ Technology we began playing around with a number of phone app authoring platforms. Mostly drag and drop using the browser as a UI, they allowed you to bring in RSS feeds from a website, bring in your YouTube channel and badge it all with a logo.

To get your app on Apple’s app store (this was prior to the rise of Android), you had to pay Apple its fee before it went through their approval process and then, if you were charging for downloads, also forego about 30% of that price to Steve Job’s fruit empire.

Then there were developers who would build you a proprietary app and also expect a slice of your ongoing download revenue – after Apple had taken its bite.

This last developer business model carried on into the iPad/tablet era but began to die out once other solutions offered lower barriers to entry. We declined to go down this route because we didn’t want our online fortunes beholding to a proprietary application which may not be supported in the long term, would need updating with every new iteration of Apple’s iOS and see us in an open-ended marriage with a development company who would be getting a free ride on our hard work and intellectual property. It would be like a free-to-air broadcaster paying royalties from ad revenue to a transmitter builder, or a pay TV operator giving a fibre optic cable manufacturer an ongoing slice of subscriptions.

We also kept a watch on our counterparts at other publishing companies noting the different approaches and mixed results of their entries into the app realm. Issues of demonstrated nominal return on investment and readership figures aside, the app approach is plagued by:

  • The need for ongoing investment to keep up with operating system changes, often across different devices;
  • The certainty that 100% of your print readership will not transition to a digital-only magazine app, and that those who do will not all use the same type of device;
  • The certainty that you will lose readers along the way because you are pushing responsibility for distribution onto them and they have to have both time and motivation to undertake this.
  • The fact that in-app content is not indexed by search engines, thus making it impossible to for anyone to find your content, especially new readers;
  •  The search process for apps largely takes place within the app stores themselves, so you have to that potential new readers are trawling the app stores for content like yours and not the latest Angry Birds update (I know that’s so 2010, but you get the picture);

Tellingly, a former colleague of mine polled the advertisers and agencies who book into his magazine as to how many of them were working on creative to run in iPad or tablet-based publications. The total, none.

At C+T, we have a lot of discussion about reducing “points of resistance”, i.e., those points in the engagement process where one barrier or another leads to reader churn. Whether it is the advertiser-supported, free, printed magazine that turns up on your desk, or the weekly email in the InBox that points to our new responsive web site, we believe in making that connection between readers and content, and readers and advertisers, as open and hassle-free as possible.

Open standards have served the industry we serve very well. You buy a TV or radio, pay TV subscription or cinema ticket and you don’t have to think too much about how you get the content. You just enjoy it. We’d like to think we’ve learnt something from this approach and we look forward to your feedback.


Phil Sandberg