Multigrain Discussion: Why Publishers Don't like Apps.

Recently Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of Technology Review raised some eyebrows with his provocative article Why Publishers Don’t like Apps.  Mr. Pontin claims that two years ago publishers were “overtaken by a collective delusion.”  They thought that the advent of iPADs and smartphones promised a way to deliver their newspaper and magazine content “suitably enhanced” with “extra cartoons, extra photographs, videos, audio of writers and poets reading their work.”

And best of all, this would enable them to charge for digital versions of single issues and subscriptions as well as revive “the old print advertising economy” that produced most of their profits.  What they didn’t anticipate was that the apps required to work this magic  would be so difficult and costly to develop and that Apple would charge “a 30 percent vigorish on all single-copy sales through its iTunes store.” But perhaps the most damaging issue of all was that apps lacked the “linky-ness of the web” which most readers had come to expect from a digital experience.  Subscriptions and single copy sales languished and advertising revenues remained a mirage.

Mr. Pontin goes on to note that publications like the Financial Times are abandoning apps in favor of writing their websites in HTML5, “which can optimize the site for the device a reader is using and provide many features and functions that are applike.”  His overall conclusion: “The paid, expensively developed publishers’ app, with its extravagantly produced digital replica, is dead.”

Is he right? Do you agree with Jason Pontin? Or is there some new killer app out there that will reverse the trend?  Does it make any difference?  Can publishers successfully monetize digital content whether its by using apps or some other software solution?  What does all this mean for readers?  And what about libraries?  Where might they fit in?

As always, we’d like to know what you think so feel free to start typing and chime in with your take on the issue.

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