I paid £9.99 for a month-long iPad subscription to The Times on Saturday. I wasn’t sure what i was going to get – i’d looked at the new paid-for website and found little that sets it apart from free sites from The Telegraph and The Guardian. Apart from a forest of serifs.
The Times iPad app, however, delivers a ‘proper’ newspaper experience – you download a daily edition and read through pages repurposed for the iPad, with a few picture galleries and videos to remind you that you are using a digital device. The idea is to give a sense of value – and it almost works.
Yes, the editorial quality is top-notch. And I’ll forgive the lack of interactivity or social features. This is, after all, the UK’s paper of record. But I before i buy another month’s subscription, I’d need to see the app’s two big problems addressed.
Firstly, design. The rigid adherence to multiple columns with force-justified text may make the Times app look like a paper, but it also makes it a pain to read on a screen. And there’s no way of increasing font size, which is bizarre when you consider that the pages appear to be text flowed into templates rather than human-designed.
Secondly, the publication process. The daily paper analogy may feel reassuringly familiar to publishers, but it strikes me as bizarre that The Times app doesn’t update its headlines during the day. I spent Saturday morning reading a positive profile of David Laws in The Times, not realising that he’d become embroiled in a scandal in the hours since the virtual presses stopped turning. In short, the Times app is yesterday’s news – understandable in print, unforgivable in pixels.
Of course, we’re all finding our way in the brave new world of editorial apps, and the Times app is providing a great service for those of us in publishing without the money or guts to dive in immediately. There’s an advantage to being first, too – the Times has managed to make me buy a month-long subscription when I rarely but its physical incarnation. I can confidently say I’ve never spend £10 on the Times in one month before. Probably not even in a year. Similarly, Wired’s magazine app managed to sell 24,000 in it’s first day on sale.
I still have grave doubts about The Times as a paid-for desktop experience. But its iPad app suggests there is a moneymaking future for publishing beyond paper – just so long as we publishers don’t rely too heavily on print analogies.
Oh, and as long as a few people in the UK actually buy iPads, too.