atavistRemember The Atavist? Let me refresh your memory. In January 2011, they started seeking a paying audience for long-form journalism, via Kindle Singles and, soon, their own e-reader apps with in-app purchases. (At the time, I was dubious anyone would care to pay $3 for a single article.) We reposted a Joe Wilkert review of their app a month later, and in 2013, we touched on them briefly as part of an article about new-media publishers’ uses of metadata.

In March 2014, The Atavist founded a publishing arm, Atavist Books, which it declared would “revolutionize book publishing,” through the use of clever promotional website games. In October 2014, The Atavist announced Atavist Books would close at the end of the year. (It turned out to be a pretty short revolution.)

Well, now The Atavist is in the news again. Wired reports that it’s decided to kill its native tablet magazine app in favor of switching over to the web. This isn’t really a surprise when you get right down to it. At the time they launched their app, the mobile web was fairly primitive, and there wasn’t a good way to get the kind of customization a magazine needs out of the mobile browsers that existed at the time. But now, with HTML5, it’s a lot easier to do, and now existing within an app is actually more limiting than freeing.

Apple and Amazon’s app stores presented their own difficulties and delays in allowing new features to be smoothly integrated, they say, while readers are ultimately choosing to find, share, and read stories on social or the web. “In an era where stories are increasingly found and shared through social media, discovery in the app store was a nightmare of its own,” [Atavist founders Evan] Ratliff and [Jefferson] Rabb say. “We were reaching a readership often 50 to 100 times larger on the web than what we could in the app.”

If anything, it’s surprising that it took this long. But between this and David’s recent article on legacy electronics prompting me to take another look at my old first-generation iPad, it really is kind of remarkable just how much the mobile landscape has changed when you think about it. In the days of the original iPad and iPod Touch, there was an app for everything. How many of those apps have now gone by the wayside in favor of a more-streamlined web experience? In this era, having an app of their own is what’s really “atavistic.” (Which, given their name, tends to suggest they actually ought to keep it, but metaphors only go so far.)

This also ends the dichotomy between selling content in e-book stores and carrying it via their own app. If they only have to worry about posting it one place, that’s a much lower workload for them.


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