Producing a high-quality print app is tricky. It has to have enough interactivity to hook a reader, but not so much that it overwhelms them. It needs compelling information, attractive design, and enhanced ads. And most importantly, it has to work.
Since 2010, Rebecca McPheters, CEO of McPheters & Co., has been tracking tablet apps and rating them for design, functionality, media, and advertising, if applicable, via her iMonitor service. This year, iMonitor studied nearly 8,000 different apps from publishers across the world, which are released in its 2012 State of the App report.
Those with perfect or near-perfect scores represented a variety of publishing companies and categories. Four apps had perfect scores: Martha Stewart Living, Newsweek, Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine and Reader's Digest. Those with identical near-perfect scores, in alphabetical order, were Allure, Bloomberg Businessweek, Bloomberg, Condé Nast Traveler, Everyday Food, Food & Wine, Fortune, Golf Digest, Houston Chronicle, Intelligent Life, Men’s Health, National Geographic International, The Daily, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Vanity Fair, Website Magazine Digital, Wired and Women’s Health.
The best apps, according to the report, have certain things in common: “All are easy to use and offer a wide range of enhancements such as social media, audio, video, bonus content and transactional capabilities.” Some of the enhancements spotlighted by iMonitor were the Economist’s downloadable audio versions of its stories for on-the-go listening, the New York Times’ interactive Hurricane Sandy evacuation map and Martha Stewart Living’s instructional videos.
As far as gaining consumer traction, some of the most important factors were an app’s brand equity, discoverability, outreach, and engagement, as well as accessibility across different devices, platforms, newsstands. When it came to driving revenue, surprisingly, an app’s being featured on the front page of Apple's App Store or within an App Store category proved far less important than the number of days it was featured in the newsstand. Offering free access to print subscribers was also found to be a major revenue driver.
The 118-page iMonitor report also highlighted some of publishers’ biggest app trends of 2012, including an increased reliance on paid content (which was up nearly 10 percent across publishers since the 2011), simpler apps, increased adoption of iOS Newsstand, and distribution across a greater number of devices and platforms. The majority of 2012’s top-performing apps were developed by Adobe and Woodwing, while apps developed with Oomph had the highest average iMonitor ratings. The year’s largest app publishers by number of apps were Hearst, Time Inc. parent Time Warner and Condé Nast.
While apps are improving, in-app ads still have a ways to go, according to iMonitor. Although ad value for apps was found to be higher on a per-reader basis than for print or online ads, iMonitor found that “many advertisers are still on the sidelines, or simply putting traditional print creative into publication-related apps,” while “relatively few advertisers able to execute in-app advertising of high quality or across multiple titles.” Among those few advertisers who actually produced great ads were Toyota, Fidelity, and American Express.