In early 2011, I sent this email to our fans and followers, letting them know that we were breathing new life into Carve after our yearlong hiatus, and we were moving forward into the digital age with full abandon. Kindle! iPad! Apps! We wanted to do it all.
I spoke too soon and made the mistake of not doing my research. (Bad Editor!) It’s been a year-and-a-half since that email, and obviously no iPad app is in sight.
The first reason is cost. They’re insanely expensive. The price quotes I got in 2011 were eye-bulging. I quickly became discouraged. I set the idea on the back burner and instead focused on getting our annual anthologies on the Kindle and in iBooks, which was far less costly. (Success! Download an anthology today and we’ll love you.)
I had a brief spark of renewed hope for an iPad app when I went to the 2012 AWP conference in Chicago this past March. There was session on creating iPad apps: “Behind the Scenes of Implementing a Successful iPad and Tablet Publishing System.” I thought, Great! I’ll find some lit mags that have done it successfully and learn their formula!
Wrong. The session was little more than a poorly-done sales pitch. Most of their clients were big-name publishers—think Time, Newsweek, USA Today—and when pressed for hard numbers on how much it would cost to get an iPad up and running for us little guys, the small press mags, the answer was “in the ballpark” of $10,000. The room groaned and moaned.
So they clearly didn’t know their audience, but there was also a simple truth: apps aren’t cheap. It’s a new, booming business right now, and developers are a hot commodity. The laws of supply and demand are going to keep those prices up. There’s a reason low-cost, non-profit magazines don’t have an app. They just can’t afford them. This will slowly change in time as prices lower; in fact AWP has just announced the iPad edition of their “Writer’s Chronicle” publication. But the AWP is a subscription-based magazine. We are not.
The second reason is viability. After the AWP session I’d pretty much given up hope. But I still wanted to develop an iPad app, I just couldn’t. But that desire quickly dissipated after I read this article on boingboing.net, tweeted by Submittable sometime last month: “Why Tech Review is Ditching Its iPad Edition.”
Tech Review spent $124,000 on developing their iPad editions and sold 353 iPad subscriptions. Whaaaa…? Unless they were priced at $351.27 per subscription, that was a terrible, terrible investment. So what happened?
This article makes the case that not only are iPad apps expensive to create, they’re really not very useful. From the Tech Review editor Jason Pontin himself:
But the real problem with apps was more profound. When people read news and features on electronic media, they expect stories to possess the linky-ness of the Web, but stories in apps didn’t really link. The apps were, in the jargon of information technology, “walled gardens,” and although sometimes beautiful, they were small, stifling gardens. For readers, none of that beauty overcame the weirdness and frustration of reading digital media closed off from other digital media.
Now, granted, literary magazines aren’t news publications, and our stories and prose probably don’t feature a lot of links. But digital media is increasingly social and open. The success of an app, on the other hand, is dependent on a user staying within the app.
After reading this article, I realized the problem wasn’t just money—it was figuring out what people would do in a Carve app. Our stories are free to read online. What would an app offer that they couldn’t already get on our website? What kind of awesome features could we tout other than “Read our stories! On here!…..Instead of over there….?”
I had lots of ideas about creating interactive multimedia bonanzas that would hypnotize everyone. But I also realized we’re a small operation and our strength isn’t in multimedia, it’s in short stories. So I realized, it’s just not meant to be. We won’t be publishing an iPad app anytime soon. In fact, we’re going the other way and will soon be launching a premium print edition with more to read than just the stories. Choosing print over digital? Well, I’ll leave that explanation for another blog post.