AN APP I LIKE 

An App I Like - Fast Company

Duncan Tickell has rediscovered the reading habit through apps. His current favourite is Fast Company, an app focusing on innovation in technology. Clean simple design, fascinating content and … free! Duncan’s not sure how they are making money, but hopes they’re managing somehow…

By Duncan Tickell

When I first worked in magazine media, it seemed as though there were more hours in the day. I had the luxury of finding time to enjoy reading newspapers and magazines daily, but in recent years, things have got tougher. An ever more demanding workload combined with two small boys meant there just never seemed enough time in the day to enjoy working my way through a favourite newspaper or indulging my passions immersed in a great magazine.

And as the piles of unread print and paper grew, so did my guilt about the impact this was having on the environment. Factors that combined to mean I joined a cohort consuming less print media, remarkable given my passion for, and career in, the magazine industry.

Unconsciously, what happened next, was my favourite news and magazine brands became my favourite digital destinations and consumption transferred to online media; a microcosm of the evolution in our industry. This transfer to digital saw the emergence of new commercial models evolving to create a new norm for the industry, initially ad funded but diversifying over time to include transactions, paid content, ecommerce and the like.

This evolution accelerated as Apple changed the game with iOS and the iPad. Slowly but surely, the app economy evolved and I now find myself reading newspapers and magazines once again. The iPad’s portability and the form and function of iOS apps combined with the ability to download editions has reignited my desire for a linear reading experience.

From a usage perspective, I tend to snack on the essential information in the morning before settling down to more immersive, lean back consumption at the end of the day.

This snacking has been fuelled by the recent arrival of some excellent news apps including the outstanding Guardian iPhone app, Yahoo! News Digest and, more recently, the excellent Circa, a slick and more extensive news summary app that looks set to give Yahoo! a run for their money.

Given many of these have already featured on this very page it was to the end of the day I turned to for the app I currently like, the recently launched US Fast Company magazine iPad and iPhone edition.

Fast Company professes to be the world’s “leading progressive business media brand” with a focus on innovation in technology, leadership and design and, set against this context, the app doesn’t disappoint.

The design is clean and contemporary and works well on both small and large screens and supports a simple but effective proposition.

On opening the app, you’re presented with five picks for the day that are easily navigated through a simple scroll. Beyond this, the app’s beauty is its simplicity with only two further sections, latest stories and the latest issue of the magazine.

The articles themselves are well laid out and best enjoyed on an iPad with some time, as many are most definitely not snacks but balanced meals supported by great imagery, a clean layout, video and opportunities for further reading.

I’ve just finished one such piece that outlines how Marissa Mayer mobilised Yahoo! This clearly articulates how she has set out to revitalise Yahoo! by focusing on what she calls MaVeNS (mobile, video, native advertising and social).

This ambitious plan achieved revenues of $1.1bn in 2014 and the article outlines how she brought cultural change and entrepreneurial energy to a tech giant that was losing its way. The best insight was learning about Project Moneyball that saw the creation of their Gemini native advertising platform. This 14-day skunkworks project, comprising just eighteen people built a product that achieved a $100m run rate in less than four months.

There’s a real lesson here about how even the largest organisation can capture the start up spirit when it has to. It’s certainly a philosophy that underpins Immediate Media Co, a scaled content and platform company that has a start-up mentality running through its core.

For all that’s great about this app, it does have a few drawbacks. Perhaps the most annoying is that it requires an internet connection to function optimally. Whilst you can manually download articles for offline reading, this adds an unwelcome layer of complexity to the user experience.

The other big question, at the time of writing, is around what the commercial model is and how they will deliver a return on what must be a significant investment. Currently, the full version is available free in the App Store. There is no advertising and the only suggestion of future commercialisation is a subscribe option coming in May 2015.

I truly hope they find a sustainable model, as my evening would be a little poorer without the insight it provides into the tech space and beyond.

Furthermore, it would be another example to add to the growing list of magazine brands returning to growth through diversification across multiple platforms. With revenues back in the black as a consequence, it feels like we’re entering a new golden age for magazine media, and I for one am excited to be a part of it.

Fast Company can be downloaded from the App Store.