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Exploring tech issues in publishing

Apps have come from nothing, a few short years' ago, to being a central pillar of many companies' publishing strategies. But the sector is evolving so rapidly that no one can be sure in which direction the market will go next. James Bourne looks at some of the issues facing publishers.

By James Bourne

The app ecosystem covers a wide variety of disciplines, so it’s no surprise that publishing has its own areas to explore.

These include the rise of apps with regard to traditional publishing models, and the consequences therein, alongside the differences between e-readers and tablets, and whether an app or e-book is better. In other words: what is the future of mobile publishing?

You’ll know plenty of people with Kindles and iPads. There’s a good chance you own one yourself. And it’s safe to say that when these products were put on the market, publishers would have looked gleefully at their material being utilised on the nascent technology – and maybe renewing a tempestuous relationship with the internet.

Yet there are plenty of unresolved issues. The late Steve Jobs told the New York Times in 2008: “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.” So what’s the way to go forward? Apps, e-books, or neither?

Are apps the future for publishing? There are plenty of potential advantages, of course – immersion, sharing quotes on social media, interaction to name three – but is a book still a book if it isn’t a book?

Wherever you stand on that issue, it’s arguable that an e-book is more of a book than an app. According to Robert Niles, e-books are cheaper to develop than apps, sell more, and are content based rather than programming.

For books, it appears to be a high wire balancing act to get best practice. For the newsroom, the future still remains unclear. Jobs might have said that people don’t read anymore, but fact – in news form – is a totally different beast to fiction.

Evidence of this can be seen with the daddy of all tabloid news, Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch doesn’t make many mistakes – his 2005 acquisition of MySpace notwithstanding, Murdoch admitting himself earlier this year that he had “screwed up in every way possible” – and his iPad-only outlet, The Daily, hasn’t exactly set the online world alight.

Even though Jobs worked closely with their team to create the tablet-only news source, in July one third of The Daily’s staff was laid off amid rumours of Murdoch pulling the plug. Sports coverage was afterwards siphoned from Fox Sports – a News Corporation baby, of course – among other cost-cutting exercises.

At a price of $0.99 (63p) per week, or less than 10p a day – how many paid hard copy papers come out at that price? – one would expect it to be win-win. But there has to be problems, as the miserable two and a half star rating on the App Store would suggest.

Chief among these, according to Frédéric Filloux, is The Daily’s identity crisis. It’s neither a fluffy tabloid, nor a haven for serious enterprise news. Jack of all trades and master of none: will nobody but the die hards return to your publication if it doesn’t offer a niche?

Yet this brings about another discussion point, regarding paying for news. The Times and New York Times set the precedent. Many consumers would naturally switch if they can get their news for free, but nearly half a million paid subscribers to the NYT (according to figures quoted in March) might say otherwise. A power struggle is emerging – which way will the game go?

The paywall newsroom is just one of the issues being discussed by publishing thought leaders at Apps World Europe, on 2-3 October in Earls Court 2, London. Join the debate by registering. Save 15% on your workshop pass with the code INPUB15