Android to get a newsstand too? D'oh!January 3, 2011: 1:52 PM ET
According to a report last night, Google is building a virtual newsstand for Android phones and tablets. Why not just push HTML5?
I'll admit it. I don't get it. Why are magazine publishers trying to build apps for different platforms when they should all be building HTML5 magazines that work across all platforms? Sure, it is nice to have a presence in Apple's (AAPL) App Store in which millions of iOS users have instant access and saved credit card info. But what about Android, Palm and Blackberry and all of the rest?
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google (GOOG) is trying to woo magazine publishers over to Android with the promise of lower fees (Apple takes 30%) and better access to user data than Apple provides.
So publishers have to build a second application for Android every week or month. Then they still are leaving out other platforms like Windows and Blackberry. They are also leaving out desktop and laptop users as well. That doesn't sound like skating to where the puck is going to be.
Why focus on apps at all? Why not just build a really good (dare I say revolutionary?), scaling HTML5 version of the magazine and build an easy payment gateway with credit card/PayPal options? Then publishers won't need to give 30% to Apple or slightly less to Google. They also won't have to deal with controlling their platform.
Both Google and Apple (and Microsoft (MSFT) and RIM (RIMM) and everyone else) sing the praises of HTML5 and indicate that it is the future. But the technology is already here, today. Magazines aren't games which need lots of graphics power and lightning fast reaction times. Prototypes of HTML5 magazines have already been impressive. Sports Illustrated (like Fortune, a Time Inc. company) built a beautiful demo for last year's Google I/O below:
If that is what could be done a year ago, I'm sure much better stuff can be built today in a much easier fashion. I've seen products that Adobe (ADBE) pushes that exports much of the InDesign layout that print magazines build into scaling HTML5. What's the allure in building a magazine for app stores if a universal web app looks just as good?
HTML5 can cache lots of pages and media for offline viewing in the rare instance users want to read outside of an area with an Internet connection. Other times it would conserve bandwidth by only downloading what is needed. A lot of what makes these magazine apps interesting is that they connect to the web for real-time information and updates. No Internet makes these apps more like PDFs with embedded video.
Apps: It's complicated.
Apple, for one, censors content that is in its App Store if it doesn't like the subject matter. Usually they are pretty fair, but why should a publisher even have to think about being censored? Approval process every week? Fantastic. A glaring typo? Wait a few days until Apple or Google gets around to approving it.
With HTML5, you can update any part of the publication in real-time. Perhaps there is breaking news that changes a story entirely. In print, that is excusable. In a digital magazine, it is just embarrassing.
Android might be better on some of these accounts, but why even bother with Google or Apple?
If being on the App Store/Newsstand is that appealing, build an iOS/Android app that is a Webkit browser that automatically logs users into their account. That way the publication is still featured on the App Store but it has all of the advantages of being HTML5.
Building proprietary payment gateways might be expensive at the outset, but it would empower publishers to set costs and change them at a whim and offer promotions on their own terms rather than what is allowed by Apple or Google. Publishers could also gather whatever customer analytics data they want without having to sneak it out of Google and Apple. I'm assuming most of these players already have websites where they already do as much.
If building a payment gateway is too daunting, throw the magazine in the Chrome Store. Google will happily take 30% and won't tell you what to do or when you can update your application. On top of that, it will be available across many platforms rather than just one. Less optimal, but fewer headaches.
As for Google, I don't quite believe the Journal story is accurate. I think Google is taking the long view and working on a web app store rather than an Android store alone.
Though I have no connection to the big boys upstairs at Time Inc., I hope they are listening.