Magazine Apps Are About To Get Better, But Will Anyone Use Them?

Adobe and Fast Company have partnered to develop a new set of tools for digital storytelling.

When the iPad first came out, many heralded it as a silver bullet for magazines — a way for the sinking industry to present beautifully packaged stories and capture paying readers in the digital era rather than give away their content for free on messy websites, or risk fading into obscurity. But the iPad wasn't the panacea that the magazine industry thought it would be. Many publications' iPad apps wound up feeling static, or even irrelevant. But today, Adobe — the company that makes the publishing software used by the vast majority of the magazines in the iOS Newsstand today — is releasing a new Digital Publishing Suite that aims to correct some of those problems, with Fast Company's app as its first prototype.

With this new suite, Adobe is softening its all-in approach to putting magazines on mobile devices and creating a publication that is a smarter halfway point between the static traditionalism of print and the ephemeral rush of the web. This means that the publications you currently subscribe to on mobile devices and download month-to-month will now update constantly instead of periodically. In other words, they'll be more like websites and less like print magazines.

"We wanted to find a way to deliver content in a continuous way," said Nick Bogaty, Adobe's head of Digital Publishing. "We wanted to make something that was really mobile-first, not just the print mag for devices." To that end, the Fast Company app will feature stories from the print magazine along with a running newsfeed from the website and a curated feed from the Fast Company editors.

However, it's still an open question as to whether readers will actually use magazine apps like this. Reading habits have changed. People now tend to find articles through the social web and apps, rather than curated experiences. Just because the app is prettier and more responsive than the mobile site does not mean that the average person clicking through a share or retweet would ever be willing to run the app just for a better-designed experience.

"The first tier of users will be the avid fans; it's a better experience for them than any other form right now for readers on mobile," said Bob Safian, editor-in-chief of Fast Company. "I hope over time that it becomes bigger than that."

The app released today is a Fast Company-specific prototype, but the Digital Publishing Suite will be widely available this summer and, given Adobe's market share in the publishing world, will likely become the industry standard for producing magazines on mobile devices.

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