Does One Size Fit All? Let's Discuss!

Does One Size Fit All? Let's Discuss! Adweek yesterday stirred the blogosphere with an article titled "Magazines Pull Back on Tablet Bells and Whistles; Why It's Back To Basics for Some Publishers," quoting publishing executives about how they are simplifying their tablet editions in order to reach as many types of devices as possible. "Interactive elements are valuable to [readers], but they're a secondary benefit," said Time Inc.'s Steve Sachs. Chris Wilkes of Hearst Magazines' App Lab warned that interactive elements are "more likely to be distracting, cause confusion and occasionally irritate customers."

The design community was quick to respond.

Joe Zeff of Joe Zeff Design blogged "Bah humbug!" in his "More Bells and Whistles, Please!" post. "The tablet is where tomorrow's readers establish relationships with today's magazine brands. A passive stack of PDFs won't satisfy them, regardless of how many devices the publisher targets." Mario Garcia agreed in his well-read The Mario Blog. "I refuse to use the phrase 'bells and whistles.' The tablet is a multi-genre platform: one reads, one sees, one hears, one watches videos. It is the combination of these genres that make for a satisfied user."

Zeff makes the case that one size does not fit all, citing unique opportunities that go unattended by simply replicating a printed magazine in multiple form factors on multiple devices.
"There are two primary form factors -- 7-inch devices with 16:9 screens and 10-inch devices with 4:3 screens -- and significant differences between devices in each category," said Zeff, whose studio worked on bestselling author Timothy Ferriss' first app for the Kindle Fire, "A Christmas Countdown Experiment: The 4-Hour Chef Teaser (Kindle Fire Edition)" now available from Amazon.

"The 7-inch devices are well suited as readers, presenting words and pictures with interactivity that complements the experience. The Kindle Fire in particular adds the benefit of linkage to Amazon's one-click shopping capability, turning magazines into e-commerce portals. At the same time, its lack of 3G makes it a different play than the Samsung Galaxy Tab that can connect to the Internet anywhere, anytime.

"The 10-inch devices beg for interaction -- their large screens come to life when swiped and poked. But here's where the iPad crushes its Android competition: the ubiquity of easy-to-use Apple products and the integration between them. The biggest challenge in selling apps is letting people know about them, and Apple makes apps easier to sell than other marketplaces, with a well laid-out iTunes Store accessible from multiple devices."

Two issues here: bells and whistles, and whether some devices require different approaches than others. Let's discuss!

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  • Robert Newman

    One thing I'm interested in is the difference between the app experience on the Kindle Fire and the iPad. We went into creating the Reader's Digest Kindle Fire app just assuming it was exactly like the iPad, only skinnier. We found that the format demanded a different approach to page construction, and that the lesser technology of the Fire meant less interaction, hyperlinks, etc. No surprise that the technology dictated a lot of the design and structure. I remember Jeremy Leslie walked into the office one day while we were deep into building the first round of pages and said "this is a reader." I think he was right; the Kindle Fire is much more of a reader than the rich experience that the iPad offers (the Kindle has less memory and is way slower, for starters). So we stripped down our Kindle app and went much more for the reading experience. But we're still trying to keep some level of interaction and multimedia. I'm curious what folks who've done Kindle apps or who have played around with them think about the whole experience.

  • Robert Newman

    It's no surprise that there's a split between the "bells and whistles" (let's call it something else, like "enriched experience") and the replica approach (aka Zinio) for apps. We found in our in-app survey for Reader's Digest that app users were passionate about both directions. Some wanted just a straight reading and looking at photos experience; others wanted as much interaction and multimedia as possible (they all seemed to like video). My guess is that when time and technology allow, we're going to have multiple versions of apps within platforms, the rich and lite versions.

    Personally, I prefer a rich experience, one that takes full advantage of the capabilities (and fun) of an iPad. Publishers like Time Inc. are looking at this from a business strategy: how can they produce the most apps for the most platforms for the least amount of money. You have to put Steve Sachs' comments in that context. They figure out the business strategy, and then rationalize how it affects content (I worked with Steve at Real Simple back in the day, and he's a smart dude). I agree with Josh that as long as magazine apps are extensions of the print versions, there's not going to be a lot of innovation away from their basic structure. However, that's not to say that there can't be a lot of innovation within the structure. And there are a heck of a lot of readers who are interested in basically a digital version of the print magazine. Our goal at Reader's Digest for 2012 is to sell as many digital versions of the magazine as we do print on the newsstand. And we're probably going to do it. Once publishers see that kind of potential, the Time Incs. of the world are going to come up with business strategies that take advantage of all their existing resources without having to imagine anything new. Our job is to convince the money people that producing a magazine app with additional content, with engagement, that creates a whole new reading/viewing/entertainment experience, is worth it in the long run.

  • Josh Klenert

    This mind set of to have "bells and whistles" or not, is kinda funny, as it strikes me as not learning lessons from recent history. We've been down this road before with magazine websites, and magazines on those old shiny CD-ROMS (remember those? Blender magazine, circa 1994 anyone?).

    When magazines reformatted or regurgitated content for their early websites, they saw little success (both on an audience and revenue POV). It wasn't until later, that magazines embraced the web, built teams to create original content, on a web centric schedule (not on a print schedule) that they saw success. Look at sites like,,, (the list goes on).

    Yes, extras are fun and drive engagement, but these platforms need to be thought of holistically.

    In my humble opinion, they need to be driven by the content, not the original printed page (See: The Atlantic for iPad, Bloomberg Businessweek for iPad, Fast Co's United States of Design, SPIN Play, etc.). For what its worth, I do believe that publications (like other brands) need to be everywhere their audience expects them to be, which is quite a challenge serving many platforms. Its for this reason that magazine apps that expand beyond "PDF + bells and whistles" and integrate more dynamic & frequent content will win.

    The tablet is not a printed magazine, its not a website. Experiences for tablets (apps now, browser based coming soon, see: must be designed for that platform.

    end rant.

  • Anthony Scerri

    Thank you Mr. Eland.

  • Jon Eland

    I'm not sure either side is right - the point is; each publisher should get to know the readership they're aiming to target via these devices and ask identify from them how they want to receive their editorial content.

    It's about being appropriate - in the same way magazines, newspapers and comics are all appropriate to their readership. Yes, Wired should offer a highly interactive offer taking advantage of technology, gadget specific titles might benefit more from being able to get as close to hand's-on as possible and Sports Illustrated needs image zoom.

    If we're going to be serious about digital publishing we should stop pretending there is any one size fits all and start accepting that (as with every other area of publishing) the reader, the content and the sponsor (eg: advertiser) drive the decision making of a clue'd up publisher between them.

    And, if the publisher isn't hasn't the skills to identify this yet -then maybe they need to quickly find some very good advisers or start hunting out a new job!

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