The media, like any of us, is dynamic and constantly evolving. This is probably one reason why we mortals are so fascinated with it… online or otherwise. This is quite unlike archaic laws in some countries that go on existing without even attempting to reinvent themselves. Even cultural beliefs in some ways stand still and insist on taking us backwards until some awakened logic pushes them back into oblivion.

Reading pulls you out of oblivion

Well, reading is one strategic decision that helps us keep in touch with the world as it evolves. On the other end of the spectrum is that proverbial frog in a well that thinks the world is all about walls that cannot be scaled. Reading, therefore, is as vital to the awakened mind as breathing properly is to a sound body. Let me add here that the other reality today is the increased frequency of people moving from one place to another… and because of this the time slots for sitting at one place to read in peace are immensely reduced. This makes printed reading material rather cumbersome to carry and leads us to talk about the new media ecosystem.

The new media ecosystem

Smartphones, tablets and other portable electronic devices in conjunction with the internet have made it possible for us to carry all the varied forms of reading material with us wherever we go. Reading happens even as we move and this is the benefit of being a part of the new-age ethos.

We have seen how multiple apps are competing for attention of this new reader zipping around on the internet highway. Imagine carrying a reasonable choice out of thousands of magazines in your hand and you’ll know what I am talking about. Magzter, one of these reading facilitator apps on both iOS and Android devices claims to have ‘over 7,700 magazines and over 28.5 million users around the world’, ‘over 1800 Indian publications’, and with a readership patronage in ‘over 30 categories in over 60 languages and users from over 175 countries’. Their business model includes selling subscriptions as well as asking advertisers to hop on and seek their own consumers from a wide range of psychographic and demographic profile through ads. Yes, they are also not averse to selling digital subscriptions to magazines.

What are these ads all about?

Magzter informs me that these ads are interactive and could range from playing a video to adding a floating element to it. Swipe interactions and event reminders and location pointers, and mini games are also possible. They offer advertisers to opt for ‘full-page interactive HTML5 advertisements to ensure that the advertisements are responsive and automatically fit across all iOS and Android devices’. I’m sure this is a reasonable way to make money and Vijay Radhakrishnan, Co-founder and President, Magzter Inc adds that ‘click-throughs of our ad inventory is anywhere between 15-30% . This is way high than standard CTR on the Web which would be less than 1%.’ This should ideally make the admen and companies looking for viable substrates for their promotions a rather pleased lot and Magzter isn’t off the mark in ‘targeting an annual revenue of $ 100 million from advertising within next three years.’ Magzter has also announced its strategic tie-up with SPH, one of the world’s leading publishers and No. 1 in Singapore, for this advertising business and SPH will be representing Magzter for Singapore and South East Asia.

What about the reader?

Ah! Now we’re stepping on to some real issues. But let me begin by saying that cursorily browsing through their offers I discover that a lot of magazines are available at 50 percent or more discount… and these include Filmfare, India Today, Vogue India, Femina, Reader’s Digest, Architectural Digest, GQ India, Good Housekeeping, GrihShobha, BBC Top Gear India, Lonely Planet magazine, Good Homes, Caravan, Cosmopolitan, Smart Photography, Women’s Era, Fortune India, Gadgets and Gizmos and a range of other publications with lesser discount. A glance through the discounts offered on the print version tells me that the digital formats are no different. When a user pays to subscribe to the app, he is really paying to have it on their device and the magazine subscriptions are over it… and this makes me somewhat restless.

Users of this app have uploaded their reviews and there are many talking about frequent crashes and even sloppy UI. There are others who mention that the app makes them download content multiple times as the downloaded content seems inaccessible. These are reviews from users who are paying and subscribing. Some talk about magazines being image scans of the paper version that do not scale well on smaller hand-held devices. There are fears about being unable to access content of magazines that a user has decided to discontinue after the expiry of his subscription. One subscriber even laments that ‘the screen goes dark and blank as you turn pages and you have to wait for 30 to 60 seconds for the next page to show up’ even on his iPad Air with over 20 GB of space free and running only four apps.

So yes, these are serious issues that the app developers need to look into if they want to stay competitive in a marketplace that has Apple’s Newstand and others equally aggressive.

Anything else?

Well, if the business model of earning revenue through ads is lucrative enough why not give the readers a respite from subscriptions? At least make the discounts more attractive than those existing for the print versions. Moreover, if a user has subscribed a magazine for an year and then discontinued, he must have access to it for the rest of his life… this is what I get when I buy a print issue, don’t I? I did go through the FAQs and the answer did not seem complete as it did not mention if I could access content even after I have discontinued subscription:

How many times can I view the magazines I’ve purchased? 

There are no time limitations once you have purchased a magazine on Magzter and you can read your magazines any number of times.

Even shifting a subscription from print to digital on Magzter is based entirely on the whims of the publication.

However, even with all these issues, the fact remains that apps like Magzter are fast becoming an intrinsic part of the new media ecosystem and as more and more users get on to reading stuff online and in the digital format, this tech environment is anyway going to evolve and make itself more desirable.

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The new media ecosystem

The new media ecosystem

Magzter

Magzter

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Arvind Passey
19 April 2016