A Tale of Two Free Magazine Apps

A Tale of Two Free Magazine Apps While Esquire, TIME, Popular Science, Wired and a slew of others continue to fight the good fight towards creating new revenue streams through charging for app versions of their magazines, there are some publications out there whom have chosen to go the other way (at least for an issue) and give it up for FREE!

Two in this latter category are high end pop culture biographers Interview and Apple obsessives MacLife and as expected in this ever evolving, increasingly social pool we swim through they have taken two different approaches to playing the game. One is monogamous, cozying up with a lone advertiser to subsidize the experience while the other launches "Issue Zero" as a means to do some serious R&D by crowdsourcing it's highly engaged reader base.

Is one approach better than the other? Is either a bad precedent to set for our industry? A fools errand or pure genius? Read on and if you have an iPad go download the apps--no more "I'm not paying cover price for a digital version" excuses people. C'mon now.

INTERVIEW (The Calvin Klein Edition)                    DOWNLOAD
Launched -- 9.17.10
Size -- 385 MB
iTunes -- 3 stars, 250 ratings

In partnership with Calvin Klein and Other Edition Limited whom have built magazine apps for such noteable rags as VMan, IDN and Blind Spot.

Interview has chosen not to add much to this free app edition and you know what, I found myself totally cool with that. Interactivity is kept to a minimum and mostly relegated to the navigational elements and as a way to reveal hidden text in the advertisements. As corny as it may be I'm a sucker for the old school page turn look and feel they have utilized. When the user swipes, the page gracefully curls down from the right rather efficiently. The Calvin Klein presence can be a bit overwhelming, In the end though it is tastefully integrated and the brands compliment each other famously. Remember when Target bought the whole issue of the New Yorker back in August 2005? It's Kind of like that, elevated.

I am freaked out a bit by the fact that the app includes a "shop" button, but only a little. It's more overt than product placement in movies at least and I can respect that. The fact is e-commerce integration is the buzzword the business side of your company is obsessing over right now and I doubt that conversation will get tabled anytime soon. If e-commerce and editorial are going to slow dance together this isn't the worst outcome by any means.


• Impressively simple and mostly intuitive navigation
• Beautiful photography all round across both edit and advertising
• Rated 17+ (You know that means it must be really good!)
• Most of the CK content, the brand history, etc. are actually interesting
• It's Free

• Type renders only relatively well, it gets tough to read those long stories
• Video is utilized only in a small sampling of CK "behind the scenes" episodes
• Kinda Porky in file size
• At points you feel like a total tool for Calvin Klein
• Limited social media integration
• Doesn't work in landscape mode

MAC|LIFE Tablet Edition, Future US, Inc            DOWNLOAD
Launched -- 8.29.10
Size -- 193 MB
iTunes -- 3.5 stars 3854 ratings

The editor calls this "initial free app" "Issue Zero" asking outright for feedback from users and implying (at least to my skeptical nature) that if and when Issue One appears it will probably be for pay. I appreciate his honesty and think it's an interesting strategy to get a product out on the early side and iterate in public. He also mentions that the content of Issue One is a collection of previously published material. Which doesn't bother me since I haven't seen it before, score.

Unfortunately there are some drawbacks to the approach. Right out of the gate I was needlessly annoyed by an intro animation which felt agonizingly like a flash splash screen circa 2002 and it happens every time you start up the app! I often found myself frustrated moving through the pages, mostly because of the non intuitive navigation. I had to shut it down multiple times and start over because I couldn't figure out how to jump to different sections or dismiss something as basic as the pop up navigation at the bottom. I later figured out that you have to click the multiple slide icon that is embedded in the lower right corner of  inline photographs, I've thought about this a while and I still can't get my head around why they choose this functionality over something more obvious like the toolbar, it's just bizarre.

• Aggressive social media and comment integration
• Relatively Small file size
• Layouts articulate into both landscape and portrait mode
• Plenty of content including 101 App reviews
• It's Free

• I have to wait through a futile intro animation each time I open the app
• Way too much expendable animation overall
• Jarring screen blink when switching between portrait and landscape
• Non-intuitive navigation
• Had troubles dismissing the lower navigation bar
• On each page-turn the app pauses while displaying the MacLife logo, incredibly annoying
• Cannot enlarge text with standard pinch/zoom control


Know of other free magazine apps, or have something to add to this review? Did I miss something? Continue the conversation in the comments below.

Related Content on SPD:
Joe Zeff: A Paper to Pixels Postscript
Behind the Scenes: Fortune Goes to the iPad
Paper to Pixels v2: Favorite Apps
10 Essential iPad Apps for Publication Designers
Must Have App: EW's Must List
Jason Schwartzman Shows Us How to Use the New Yorker iPad App
  • Josh Klenert

    Great wrap-up!

    Sorry to say, but dropping one of the orientations is a fail. I understand its taxing to the staff to publish, but you're missing an opportunity to take advantage of this unique platform.

    The bigger issue is that a lot of these publications are desperately trying to hold on to the "issue" and printed page model--granted with more "multi-media" bells-and-whistles.

    There are ways to architect a brilliant app that utilizes your publications great content in a way that takes advantage of this unique platform.

  • Matthew Bates

    Thanks for posting this Jeremy. Really interesting. I think the workflow issue is only going to become bigger as these products become more complex. It will be interesting to see reader response to these "single view" versions. I have yet to meet anyone who has a problem with them but it is still early.

  • Jeremy LaCroix

    It's true, I think we may see the stresses of staffing showing through soon.

    Not just for designers either.

    I recently ran into a copy editor friend who works for a publication utilizing both portrait and landscape view and they were pretty torn up about the triple workload.

    Not only does a copy editor have to copy the print version they now have to re rag and break for two additional layouts with no extra support to help out.

    You all know how annoying it is to do work twice.

    Imagine doing it three times for every story in your publication.


  • Grant Glas

    Jeremy, excellent observations. Apps that don't work in landscape mode I believe is a trend that will only increase.

    The SI app recently went without the landscape view...

    Time's Josh Quittner, who's been guest editing the iPad edition of SI, states that offering an alternative landscape view taxes already overburdened designers. It's 33 percent more work. And they can't hire more designers.

    I recently downloaded Esquire which btw did an amazing job. But the app doesn't work in landscape. For me I really didn't have a problem with that considering how impressive the app actually performed.

blog comments powered by Disqus