BBC GoodFood magazine’s iPad app is widely held to be one of the best of the first generation of magazine tablet apps. Publishing Director Alfie Lewis spoke at the recent PPA conference about what they had learned so far. James Evelegh was taking notes.
Alfie Lewis’ presentation was one of the highlights of the recent PPA Conference and, during the coffee breaks, there was much admiring discussion of the merits of the GoodFood app. Part of what Alfie talked about was what they had learned in the process of devising their iPad app and what advice he would give other publishers considering an app. He had ten bits of advice:
1. Big team, broad wish list.
Get the whole team together and compile a wish list. Brainstorm it, write down all the ideas, and then prioritise a top five.
2. Put the reader at the centre of the planning process.
Do not slavishly follow other peoples’ apps. Work out what your readers’ needs are and how the iPad can meet them. The technology means that you have the potential to meet their needs in new and different ways to print. Some of the best ideas they had came from people who had never seen an iPad before.
3. Magazine design team takes creative lead.
Ensure that you retain creative control in-house.
4. Designer as main point of contact internally and externally.
It helps to have one point of contact for all matters of app functionality and design, and preferably that person should be a designer.
5. Test before launch & keep testing.
Alfie had a team of people stroking, tapping and swiping every part of the app, systematically checking all the functionality. Delegate someone on your team “to try and break it”.
6. Make friends with Apple.
Perhaps easier said than done, particularly for smaller players, but if you can, it’s good to establish a personal contact. Also, keep an eye out for new Apple functionality and embed it into your next release. Apple will like you showcasing their new stuff and the more technically advanced of your user base will get a buzz out of the latest bells and whistles.
7. Invest in your team & don’t be tight with iPads.
You need a few tablets “kicking around the office”, otherwise people are working blind.
8. Answer all questions & criticism immediately.
You want as few negative customer reviews as possible. And they are an unforgiving lot, app purchasers. Be as proactive as you can afford to be in this area.
9. Market back issues.
25% of their app sales so far have been of back issues. When marketing back issues, give them a theme if you can. Subscribers are more likely to purchase ‘The Healthy Eating Issue’ rather than the plain old ‘May 2010 Issue’.
10. Help advertisers in.
This is new territory for advertisers too. Gone is the old currency of ‘outside back cover’, ‘first right hand page’, ‘double page spread’ and the like. Set up a creative services team to help them on board.
I can now add an eleventh – “You WILL foul up; don’t panic; deal with it; learn and move on!” Because sh*t happens, even to the best. I just went onto the iTunes store to marvel at some of the superlative customer reviews for GoodFood, which were definitely there last time I looked, and saw the dread words ‘SERVICE UPDATE’, followed closely by: “There has been an unexpected problem with the latest version of the GoodFood app (1.2.2) which has prevented subscribers from being able to log-in successfully. We are working on fixing this.” Were their hitherto highly appreciative audience understanding? Did they hold fire? Err, no. “Pathetic” screamed one. “Very frustrating” someone complained. “Please sort it out” pleaded another. “Waste of time” frothed yet another. Gulp. There really is no hiding place.
And before we all start feeling smug, it’s only a matter of time…