04 12 / 2013

Time to Rethink Magazine Apps

There has been a lot of talk recently about whether magazines are failing on tablets, and if publishers should rethink their tablet/mobile strategies. Here at MAZ, we have had the privilege of working with hundreds of publishers to help them create and better understand their tablet strategies, and therefore the time to think about how we can improve both the user experience and sales figures for these apps.

Let’s get one thing straight: consumers are absolutely interested in reading magazines on their tablets. Newsstands apps, which are typically free in the App Store, in fact see very promising download numbers. But once they’ve downloaded the app, readers are typically asked to make a decision: either buy a single issue, or subscribe to the app outright. And that’s where the problem starts. There is a significant delta between the total number of app downloads and those that convert into a subscription or a one-time in-app purchase.

Let’s say I like cooking and search for some cooking terms in the App Store, then download a food publication that looks interesting. But once I open it, I’m not yet sure if I want to purchase/pay for anything. If the publication is forcing me to make that decision right off the bat, I will most likely just delete the app. It’s a lot of commitment upfront; in the heyday of print mags, I doubt anybody ever purchased a magazine for the first time without at least skimming through an issue at a friend’s home or the corner store.

So how does a publisher solve this problem? We looked at this question long and hard at MAZ, and decided to change our approach to Newsstand app.  We updated all of our 600+ apps, converting each to be a “hub” for their publication rather than simply a digital reader (which is, unfortunately, still the industry standard). So now when you download a MAZ powered app, such as the free Inc. Magazine app, you are now taken to their digital hub - including live feeds from their website, Twitter, and Pinterest board, along with the opportunity to purchase an issue or subscription. The idea is to let consumers experience content from the publisher by aggregating various feeds, such as the publisher’s website, blog and social media platforms. This gives the user several reasons to keep the app, as they can:

1. Get all of the publisher’s free web and social content in one place.

2. Become familiar with the type of content to expect from the publisher should they make a purchase.

3) Enjoy whatever other free content the publishers might want to offer as an incentive to pay for the priced content. (On this last point, Inc. offers a free back issue, though the possibilities are limitless here.)

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As long as the app stays installed on the device, the publisher can now market to that user using push notifications, featured web content, featured video content, and so on. Using these tools, you can build brand loyalty over time.

We believe this new approach to Newsstand magazine apps will lead to higher engagement with the apps, less deletion, and ultimately more purchases. Our publishers are already seeing a significant spike in the usage of their apps as a direct result of shifting to the “hub” approach. Users now see these apps as a multi-faceted brand and content center instead of just a place to either buy something or get out.

Shouvik Paul is the VP of Business Development at MAZ. Hailing from San Francisco, he tweets @ShouvikNYC about technology, digital publishing, and all the madness of the startup life. He is crazy enough to share his Manhattan apartment with a 170 lbs. Saint Bernard.

13 11 / 2013

Is Your Magazine Truly Digital? (Part 2)

Last week, I introduced some of the many challenges that continue to face publishers in the digital age and app ecosystem. As I concluded, the root of the problem is as follows:

In my opinion, the biggest problem in today’s magazine app economy is the lack of a sound engagement strategy. Publishers need a way to ensure that readers spend a lot of time with the content, and have reasons to return to the app everyday - even several times a day - like they do with their social networking apps. In the golden age of print media, engagement was a much simpler game. A physical magazine would lie on the coffee table, next to some other magazines, and the reader would engage himself with one of these few competing titles for hours on end. The notion of having to check if some new pages had magically appeared in one or several of these magazines would have, of course, seemed farcical. But reading patterns and attention spans are dramatically different today: with smartphones and tablets, the digital magazine resides next to hundred of other apps on the device, competing for user’s time not only with other mag apps, but everything from social networking to games to text and email.

So, what to do?

Unbundle! Publish content in smaller quantities, but much more frequently. It’s conventional to publish at regular intervals for print because of the medium’s own challenges - printing costs, production and distribution timeframes. etc. But for digital, the app lives right on the tablet of the reader. It is always accessible, and super dynamic: new content can be delivered instantaneously, with no extra production costs. Imagine if there were no print history to the publishing industry, and magazines were being designed deliberately for digital. The idea of publishing just one issue per month probably wouldn’t even occur to you.

Promote to current users! Once your content is published to your app, let everyone know about it. MAZ offers “On the Fly Push Notifications” with which you can send push notifications to all your readers who have the app installed on their device. These swiftly alert them to what’s new and interesting in the app, an easy and effective way to drive engagement.

Promote to future users! Be active on social media, and keep talking about your latest issues via your social channels, be it about an article from the issue, about a reader’s response to a particular story, or whatever it may be. But make sure that whatever you add is interesting and shareable!

Consolidate and emphasize your brand! The app needs to engage the reader with the magazine brand in total, not just the app. As your readers love your brand, the app should feel like a consortium for all the mediums your brand uses, be it your website, your Twitter feed, your YouTube channel, or your Pinterest board. MAZ’s Store is a leap forward in this direction: readers can experience the magazine’s entire brand, not just the app, whenever they open it. It’s a centralized way for the reader to stay abreast of all that’s happening in and around your brand.

Better yet, with our “Featured Web Content,” you can specifically promote a particular social channel right on your app’s Store. Feature Web Content comes up as a draggable window that opens automatically when the Store is launched. Let’s say, on a given day, your Twitter feed is your most popular social medium; with this feature you can hit a switch and change your Featured Web Content to your Twitter feed, so more people can partake in all the activity. On another day, you can point it to your website instead, where a new blog post has been garnering tons of pageviews.

Be dynamic! Keep updating your links, videos, and galleries on the fly, and keep your coverage current, so your readers can enjoy a sense of freshness every time they visit the app (even within the same issue). Apps, unlike print, don’t have to be static. You would never return to a website that seldom updated, would you?

Get your readers to promote for you! Today’s readers enjoy contributing to your social ecosystem, and using content of yours to contribute to their own. Our critically acclaimed “Clippings” feature (which Mashable immediately praised upon release, and our client Forbes more recently called “really cool shit!”), so that users can easily “cut out” what they like with a simple two-finger gesture, and broadcast it to the world.

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As Paul says in his interview with BillionSuccess “I want to take Clippings even further by understanding why and how people share while reading online.” More and more, social is part of our world, and whether we like it or not, we must embrace it, in apps and everywhere.

Doing even just some of the above can make a magazine truly digital, and reverse the declining trend currently seen in the publishing business. Publisher needs to have an engagement strategy that fully exploits the unique advantages of being digital. MAZ’s platform makes all of the above as simple as can be — and a fresh stock of major updates on the way, we’re about to make it even simpler.

Shikha Arora is CTO and one of the founders of MAZ. She previously spent six years working as an engineer at Adobe Systems, architecting key facets of the popular InDesign software. She lives in Noida, India, and oversees operations at the MAZ India offices.

08 11 / 2013

Is Your Magazine Truly Digital?

Everybody knows we’re living in a time of great change and challenge for the magazine business. 

On the one hand, the industry is seeing a lot of innovation in the digital age: countless new ideas, publishing solutions, formats and philosophies. Most large and mid-sized publishing houses now employ dedicated digital teams, producing and distributing content specifically for and to devices that were unprecedented just a few years ago.

On the other hand, print circulations are declining heavily, and despite the best efforts of both content creators and their marketing teams, the number of ad pages are dropping with them.

So it’s imperative that something changes — and it certainly isn’t the people who produce the magazine content, or those who sell the ads. They know their jobs well; they have been doing them for years. They may need a new toolset, but remain the best men and women for the task at hand nonetheless.

And the promise is still there — moreso than ever, in fact. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt points out, there is no doubt that “the potential audience for publishers will explode.” Tablet sales are booming, and will outsell PCs worldwide by the end of this year, according to IDC. By 2017, tablet users are projected to number 160.7 million, up from 128 million this year, reports eMarketer. It is estimated that by 2014, around 20.7 percent of the world’s population will own a tablet device.

This is to speak nothing of smartphones, which are faring even better around the globe than in the United States. For example, in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, smartphone penetration is much higher (above 80%) than that in the US (roughly 60%), and other Asian territories are catching up quickly. In some parts of these countries, people seem to have skipped the PC revolution completely, moving straight to smartphones and tablets without ever have used a PC.

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To recap: the devices are myriad, content creators and developers are putting their best feet forward, and longstanding readers still know and love the brand. So then why haven’t the numbers and profit margins of digital — the obvious and inevitable solution to print’s downward spiral — been too encouraging just yet?

In my opinion, the biggest problem in today’s magazine app economy is the lack of a sound engagement strategy. Publishers need a way to ensure that readers spend a lot of time with the content, and have reasons to return to the app everyday - even several times a day - like they do with their social networking apps. In the golden age of print media, engagement was a much simpler game. A physical magazine would lie on the coffee table, next to some other magazines, and the reader would engage himself with one of these few competing titles for hours on end. The notion of having to check if some new pages had magically appeared in one or several of these magazines would have, of course, seemed farcical. But reading patterns and attention spans are dramatically different today: with smartphones and tablets, the digital magazine resides next to hundred of other apps on the device, competing for user’s time not only with other mag apps, but everything from social networking to games to text and email.

So, what to do? Join me again this coming Wednesday for the full rundown!


Shikha Arora is CTO and one of the founders of MAZ. She previously spent six years working as an engineer at Adobe Systems, architecting key facets of the popular InDesign software. She lives in Noida, India, and oversees operations at the MAZ India offices.

31 10 / 2013

New interview with Paul

We are always working on new things– updates to the platform, new designs, new features, and so on. Currently I am spending a lot of energy on exploring how people share content on mobile and tablet devices. We have a great tool called Clippings that allows anyone to “cut out” something from the digital page and then share it across social media, email, or save it for later. I want to take Clippings even further by understanding why and how people share while reading online. Some of our innovation comes out of customer demand, and some comes out of our own anticipation of what will be important in the future. You have to have the right balance.

BillionSuccess just posted an excellent interview with MAZ CEO and founder Paul Canetti. Over the course of the conversation, Paul touches on what makes MAZ different, building a startup, his time at Apple, and sound business advice writ large.

It’s a great read! You can find the full interview here.

27 9 / 2013

Introducing MAZ Publishing 4.0

We are extremely excited to announce the release of MAZ Publishing 4.0, our fourth major release and the most ambitious one yet.

Not coincidentally, this update follows on the heels of Apple’s iOS 7, and MP 4.0 is a total reimagining of our iOS apps.

We also took it as an opportunity to rethink the platform as a whole. There are updates for Android on Google Play and Amazon’s Appstore, plus powerful new marketing and design tools in MAZ Control.

iOS 7 Design

The most striking difference in our new iOS apps is a total overhaul of the UI (user interface) that we had been using for the last three years. Our new iOS apps are cleaner, flatter, and more subtle, allowing the content to really pop.

iOS 7

Web & Social Content in the Store

Inspired by the use of web buttons inside the content our publishers create with MAZ, we now have web and social media buttons right in the Store- where users can access them as soon as they open the app.

Web Content

Featured Web Content

Users can now see the publisher’s latest news or promotions as soon as they open the app. Regardless of scheduled frequency of the publication, Featured Web Content allows any publisher to update their app with new content whenever they would like.

Featured Content

Custom Push Notifications

Push notifications can now be sent on the fly and say whatever you want, instead of only coinciding with new content going live. There is no better way to provide value to users than by providing them with important news as it happens, even if they are not in the app.

Used in conjunction with Featured Web Content, push notifications can alert users to specific content and breaking news, and when they open the app that content will already be queued up. Push notifications now work with Google Play apps as well.

Clippings Buttons

Clippings has become a staple of MAZ apps. 1 out of every 5 times someone downloads content, they create a clip. Each clip has a Clippings Link attached to it, which refers traffic back to the app or to the publisher’s website.

We have now introduced a Clippings button right in the Store and on every website, so it is easier than ever for users to spread the word across social media.

Clippings

Indicators

Users do not always understand how to take advantage of the amazing features available to them when reading on a mobile or tablet device. Now these simple prompts can be placed anywhere on the page to help educate users about how to best navigate and use their apps.

Indicators

New Design Tools

We have added grid lines and zooming to the Design Tab of MAZ Control. Now you can have even more control and precision as you lay out interactive elements on the page.

The Organize Tab now displays page numbers in real time as you make adjustments and shows you what page you currently have selected.

Visual Page Linking

It is now easier than ever to link from page to page. Instead of needing to know the exact page number, you can simply select the thumbnail of the page you want to link to.

Our Best Release Ever

We’ve been hard at work building these improvements over the last few months, and MAZ Publishing 4.0 is by far the best version of the platform we’ve ever had.

Check it out now.

We hope you enjoy using it as much as we enjoyed making it!

-The MAZ Team

16 9 / 2013

Why Apple’s Push Into Asia Is Big For Publishers

5c

Apple’s big reveal of the iPhone 5c on Tuesday has market gurus and trend pundits fiercely debating the company’s fate abroad. Everyone can agree that the plastic, price-reduced model of the iconic phone is Apple’s first real bid for Asia, a rapidly expanding market where Android giants like Samsung, Sony and Nokia reign. And with smartphone shipments in China dwarfing America’s by more than 50 million units last quarter alone, the incentive is clear.

The disagreement stems from whether the 5c’s price point - higher than most estimates projected for such a device from Apple - is in fact low enough to curry favor in the East. Outside of the American teen and tween demographics, the 5c’s contracted $99 pricetag is a bit of a red herring: Chinese consumers will have to shell out a whopping $735 to buy one unlocked, a pricey practice often necessary in emerging markets. Tech In Asia scoffs that after import duties take their toll, the iPhone 5c will actually be more expensive in China than the superior 5s will be in the US. ZD Net Asia concurs, corroborating reports that social media banter in China and India sounds anything but impressed. Josh Ong at The Next Web thinks that the 5c will still do well in Asia, and his colleague Kaylene Hong even argues that backlash from China’s longtail will pay high-end dividends for Apple. CNBC predicts that if and when Apple’s long-bartered deal with carrier giant China Mobile finally comes to fruition, the 5c’s premium exclusivity will help it dip deep into China’s mid-tier market, which has eluded Apple to date. (In any event, their fresh partnership with Japan’s primary service provider, NTT DoCoMo, has salarymen spending their entire year’s vacation just to queue up at their local Apple Store a week in advance of the new iPhones’ release.)

The outcome could have big ramifications for digital publishing writ large. It’s no secret that most magazine apps are coded for and enjoyed on iOS: even as the Google Play Store has recently surpassed Apple’s App Store in mobile app count, the App Store continues to pull in 2.3 times the revenue Google Play does. iOS’ app ecosystem and overall UX seem to better encourage app use and content purchases, a fact reflected most pertinently by data from China: in Q2 2013, the country ranked 2nd and 5th place in global iOS app downloads and revenue, respectively, while China did not crack either chart’s top five for Android. Considering Android boasts a 70% market share of smartphone devices in China, this engagement gap is salient.

Of course, there’s a third variable to consider: it makes sense that Chinese consumers able to justify buying the premium smartphone will also be able to justify buying premium smartphone content. But even then, the iPhone 5c is a compelling prospect for the digital publishing industry. Whether or not the 5c is a bona fide smash in China, it will certainly expand the iPhone’s user base in a market large enough that even a modest showing will bring iPhones into many more hands. And Apple’s coup with DoCoMo can only expand the iPhone’s considerable popularity in Japan. An Asian surge in iPhone sales bodes well for iOS apps in general, but especially book and mag apps: the uniform screen size helps ensure an optimized reading experience, and Apple’s more inviting marketplace helps drive in-app purchases of serialized content. We may soon be seeing many more Asian publications unrolling iOS apps, and more issue sales for international titles among East Asia’s bilingual populations.

In any event, we’ll soon see. The new iPhones launch in China, Japan and Singapore on September 20th, the same date as in America - the first time Apple’s given Asian markets their newest device from day one.


Jakob Dorof is The Editor at MAZ. He tweets about tech, publishing, and Korean pop music @soyrev.

29 7 / 2012

11 5 / 2012

There has been much sparring this week as comments and responses have come pouring in about this post by Jason Pontin at Technology Review.

I wrote a brief response when I first read it, and I have a lot of thoughts on these matters, many of which were so well-articulated in this post by Mike Hanley that they do not need to be re-written here. 

While the debate is healthy, sensationalist headlines about publishers (plural) disliking apps, based on ONE company, and ONE person’s experience, is not fair or right to all of the others who are making it work, but are perhaps less rambunctious about their successes. Jason’s frustration comes across loud and clear though, and I truly do feel for him and other publishers who feel scorned by their iPad app experience.

I am not going to pick a side re: Apps vs. HTML5 in the longterm. Anyone who claims to know the future of mobile and tablet publishing and consumption norms is just speculating. Every publisher should be thinking about betting on every possible horse they can. 

We do have some historical data from these early years of content on mobile and tablet devices, and if you look at consumer habits (which you should), there is a lot in support of apps.

81.5% of time spent with smartphones is with apps, 18.5% on the mobile web [source]. There are 250+ million iTunes users with credit cards on file that can easily make App Store and in-app purchases (as opposed to entering their credit cards into a mobile site). App content can be read offline. Apps just “feel” better as they are quite literally native to the device. And the list goes on… That is why MAZ has chosen to work exclusively with apps for the time being. 

But Apps vs. HMTL5 ultimately is the wrong debate to be having. Technology Review is making a serious mistake in their assessment because they are ignoring the real wrench that has been thrown at them (clue: it’s not apps).

Mobile and tablet devices themselves are the real disrupters, not apps. The experience of using these devices is so radically different than using a computer, perhaps as radically different as the computer was 20 years ago when compared with print.

Publishers’ worlds got turned upside down with the birth of the desktop web, and they have only recently gotten their website acts together, if at all.

Now once again, a huge change is rocking their boat. And longterm, it’s true that you won’t be able to just throw your print edition up on the iPad untouched, but you also can’t just throw up a new version of your website.

Tablet and mobile consumption is so so different than computer consumption. Flipboard’s CEO, Mike McCue, spoke recently about the beauty “revolution” of the iPad. All hail! The dark ages of web design are finally over! Viva la revolution!

For the beauty of the iPad, print is actually a much closer analogy than a website is. 

In the end, we need to be aiming to perfect the tablet consumption and production experience. It’s not print, and it’s not the web. It’s somewhere in the middle. I personally call it “digital print”. No one has it quite right yet, but how could they? The device itself has only existed for 2 years. 

All that being said, there is very much a place, now, in 2012, for tablet versions of print, AND tablet versions of websites. You have to start somewhere. There must be an entry point for publishers into this new market. You can’t just skip to the end. (and if you wait until then to start, you’ll be way too late)

Magazine publishers now have two products to worry about with tablets: their print edition and their website. How do you do it all?

TR writes about moving to a purely RSS-like model. I think that makes sense for a web team that is used to outputting to a website— used to templates, a CMS, and sacrificing branding to other RSS readers. The expectations of website consumers is met also: they can read what they want and/or read it through a nice RSS reader like Flipboard.

However for a team used to outputting to print, they need a solution that builds on their existing workflow, which is very different than a web team’s. These are editors and designers who greatly value the curation, presentation, and branding integrity of their content. And in turn, their readers have come to expect that experience. 

Newspapers have it the hardest. Their content is consumed more like a website’s, but they are used to print workflows. Tough spot to be in. 

Over time, these various sorts of publishers may all converge to a single mobile/tablet type of content provider. I believe there will in fact be a convergence at some point. It won’t be web, and it won’t be print— it will be something new. 

But you still need to start somewhere, and you need to start now. Don’t go bet the farm, just start. Get in the game. Choose a way that is frictionless and cost-effective, leaving room to grow as the market grows. 

Readership will only get more fragmented over time, not less. Think of apps and HTML5 “web apps” as two different platforms, just like iOS and Android are different platforms. That’s how the app/HTML5 conversation should be framed.

What you should be concentrating on instead is mastering the experience of tablet and mobile devices, and working with tools that allow you to explore and experiment.

11 5 / 2012

Check it out here

I like this idea of mixing and matching content from different sources, in a curated way, but this execution is SO BAD:

1. Zinio’s reading experience just sucks. Period.

2. Not available in the Zinio iPad app. (really?)

3. To read any of the articles you have to buy the entire issue of that magazine. No one is going to buy 10 different magazines just to read 10 articles about the Titanic. (Titanic is one of the collections) If Zinio had an all-you-can-eat model this might be compelling.

4. Only works in Flash. (really?)

Sigh.

08 4 / 2012

E-books need to get on the subscription bandwagon. That’s where digital success lives.

A good place to start:
http://mazdigital.com/books