That’s the title of an article by Jason Pontin, the editor in chief of MIT’s Technology Review. He discusses how publishers were seduced into doing apps by the iPad and how they became disappointed with the results.
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.
Without subscribers or many single-copy buyers, and with no audiences to sell to advertisers, there were no revenues to offset the incremental costs of app development. With a couple of exceptions, publishers therefore soured on apps. The most commonly cited exception is Condé Nast, which saw its digital sales increase by 268 percent last year after Apple introduced an iPad app called Newsstand that promoted the New York publisher’s iPad editions. Still, even 268 percent growth may not be saying much in total numbers. Digital is a small business for Condé Nast. For instance, Wired, the most digital of Condé Nast’s titles, has 33,237 digital replica subscriptions, representing just 4.1 percent of total circulation, and 7,004 digital single-copy sales, which is 0.8 percent of paid circulation, according to ABC.