In a world of information overload, how can publishers take advantage of innovative new technologies and capture readers’ attention? This was the question posed to publishing experts at “The Newsstand 2.0: Connecting Publishers and Readers in the Digital Age” panel during opening day of Internet Week New York, the annual event that showcases New York City’s leadership in digital culture, technology and media.
Many of the panelists confirmed what The Economist has also discovered: readers engage with content for quite a long time while on the iPad. Both Melissa Lafsky, iPad editor at Newsweek, and Jesse Angelo, editor-in-chief at the Daily, were quick to bring up this trend. Lafsky noted that, contrary to the notion that we live in a world of limited attention spans, “people spend an astounding amount of time on the Newsweek app once they download it.”
Angelo cited the New York Post as another publication that saw engagement rise when they released an iPad app. On the Post’s website, people spend an average of four minutes per day; on the iPad app, this number rises to 45 minutes twice a day.
For Josh Quittner, editorial director at Flipboard, the tablet was indeed an industry-changing device, a chance for publishers to start over again with digital. Unlike the layout of the web, the tablet “restores the glory of pagination.” In other words, readers can “flip” through the New York Times on their iPad in almost the same way they can in the print version. This pagination stands in contrast to the standard layout of webpages, where readers might scroll down to read further or click on a link to jump to the next page.
Pagination might also deal a fatal blow to the infamous online banner ad, a death no one on the panel seemed to mourn. Quittner, in particular, didn’t hold back:
“The web was pulled down into this cesspool of blinking ads that served no one. They didn’t serve advertisers and they sure as hell didn’t serve users. These ads were relegated to the periphery of content. [They were] at best annoying, at worst so frustrating you had to leave the page. Somehow it wasn’t enough for great publications to assemble hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, we also had to sell your crap. We were responsible for the efficacy of your hideous ad.”
Yet, with its pagination, the tablet might signal a return to the days of effective and artistic full-page ads. “The tablet gives us another bite of the apple,” Angelo said. “We can say to advertisers, ‘No, we’re going back to what worked, and what worked was big, beautiful ads.’ The other way is madness.”
Despite the overall optimism, all of the panelists admitted to facing digital challenges. Lafsky appealed to any Apple employees in the audience to help fix download issues on the iPad. Currently, downloading a magazine issue from a publisher’s app is a slow process. Further contributing to the frustration, if you start doing anything else on your iPad – checking your email, listening to music – the download stops and doesn’t start again until you relaunch the app. Lafsky put it bluntly: “If people can’t get your product, that’s a huge hurdle.”
Andrew Madden, head of magazines and news partnerships at Google, pointed out that following the launch of the publishing platform Google Currents, the number one request from users was “Can you make it faster?” Google, with its tech savvy, could easily and cheaply do this. On the other hand, Madden said that for a publication like Newsweek to address this challenge, “you have to add a whole other aptitude.” Publishers must start reconfiguring their staff so that they can solve new technology issues, along with traditional editorial ones.
In the end, despite the frank discussion of these technological hurdles, there was a definite sense of optimism from the panel. It might still be a long road ahead for publishing to find its footing, but, as Quittner so passionately articulated, at least those cursed banner ads are finally going away.
You can watch the full session of “The Newsstand 2.0: Connecting Publishers and Readers in the Digital Age” at Internet Week New York below.