On the iPad, as Elsewhere, Quality Matters

By Rebecca McPheters; Founder & CEO, McPheters & Company

Recently one of the major topics within the publishing community has been whether enhancements to the reader experience – such as those supported by the iPad – are worth the time, effort and resources they require, or whether minimally enhanced replicas of the printed product are adequate.  The implications are substantial, given that facsimiles are simpler and less expensive to produce.  Based on our extensive analysis of the app marketplace, we have concluded that while replicas are preferable to no presence at all, the potential to transform the magazine industry lies with apps that fully utilize device capabilities to expand upon the user experience and increase the scope of service afforded the reader.

Early last year, McPheters & Company established iMonitor to provide global tracking and rigorous evaluation of publication- and news-related tablet apps.  iMonitor has provided us with a bird’s eye view of the good, the bad, and the ugly and has allowed us to be privy to the thinking of many publishers in regard to their app strategies.  Each app in our database receives an iMonitor™ Rating based on more than 75 metrics related to its design, functionality, use of rich media, and advertising enhancements.   While straightforward replicas sometimes score well in terms of function, they tend to perform poorly in terms of our other measures – typically receiving iMonitor Ratings that place them in the middle tier of the roughly 4000 apps we have evaluated.

While it is still too early to assess what will drive success of publications on newer tablets such as the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, data we have assembled from a variety of sources have allowed us to delve deeply into what drives consumers’ willingness to pay for apps on the iPad.  When we examine Gross $ Rankings from the iTunes App Store alongside a wide range of other variables – such as the iMonitor Ratings, user ratings, audience size, demographics, circulation, app pricing, release date, and the presence of subscriptions – we find that by far the highest correlation with Gross $ performance occurs with the iMonitor Rating, with a correlation co-efficient of .54.  In other words, quality matters – and enhanced apps generate more consumer revenue than replicas.

While we found the relationships gratifying, we did not find them surprising.  High-quality apps offer dramatic improvements to the ability of editors to serve their consumers, by:

  • Allowing readers to delve more deeply into content which interests them.  For example:
    • The Daily and Sporting News, among others, let you track scores and news for specific teams.
    • Fortune and Bloomberg Businessweek+ provide access to stock quotes on companies featured in articles
  • Providing content which is more personally relevant, either through the use of interactivity or localization – or both.  Examples include:
    • Interactivity:  Project’s City Guides, Better Homes and Gardens (April issue allowed readers to see what room looks like with their choice of paint colors)
    • Localization:  National Geographic’s Trail Maps, Newsday (traffic cams) and The Houston Chronicle (traffic and weather)
    • Both: Sound+Vision BackStage:  Concert Calendar personalizes calendar based on location, favorite groups and iTunes playlists.
  • Closing the gap between consumers’ desire for a product and the fulfillment of that desire, with the incorporation of transactional capabilities, shopping lists, sharing and social media.  Outstanding examples include:
    • Transactional capabilities:  O, the Oprah Magazine, EW’s Must List, Net-a-Porter
    • Shopping lists:  Epicurious, Martha Stewart Living
    • Sharing & social media:  Glamour integrates social media and transactional capabilities, allowing readers to get discounts on featured items via Facebook

Apps which use the full range of device capabilities to enrich the user experience provide greater consumer value by providing an enhanced level of service and saving the consumer time and effort.  They are frequently more entertaining, as well.  Consequently, they are worth more, and consumers are more willing to pay for them.  While magazines and newspapers have always had to compete with other media vehicles, they have never had to compete to the extent that they do today where they are competing on a single screen with offerings for television, movies, games and more.  The increased value that high-quality magazine apps deliver to their users positions them to compete far more effectively with the ever expanding array of available media alternatives.

About McPheters & Company:

McPheters & Company is a consulting and research company which works with major media companies and advertising agencies in the areas of strategic planning, media research, and accountability metrics.  Much of their work relates to the expansion of traditional media brands across evolving platforms.  Rebecca can be reached at RMcPheters@mcpheters.com