The New Guardian App and Newspaper Update

Logo of the British newspaper The Guardian
Image via Wikipedia

Fairly recently I wrote about newspapers, their place in media moving forwards and how these companies are adapting to the digital world. It’s still a very interesting topic that’s constantly evolving as news companies look to bring their content to phones and perhaps more importantly, tablets such as the iPad. Tablet devices are perfect for newspapers as their size allows them to provide the most realistic newspaper-like reading experience on an electronic device, aside from the kindle or other eBook readers. These devices don’t allow colour for the most part. Because they don’t include media capabilities, such as video, and because newspapers aren’t usually read for long periods at a time, they aren’t as well suited to the medium of news the way things are now.

The Guardian are my favourite newspaper. I like their journalistic style and the paper just has this appeal that resonates with me for some reason. As I wrote in my last post in this subject, I have been using their iPhone app for a while now on my iPod Touch and it’s been a great product for that time. The newspaper has just put out a new version, only this one requires a subscription fee to use it.

While I’m not against subscription based business models for content that is high quality enough to warrant such a price, it does bother me that the Guardian have taken this u-turn on policy without really acknowledging their early adopting customers who I feel have been left out in the cold to an extent.

Yes, it was never going to make them much money by charging one-time fee of £2.39 for access to the app. However, when it really comes down to it, you’re not gaining that much extra with the app that you can’t get on the regaular guardian site, or even the mobile site for that matter. They have walked the line between usefulness and novelty and just come out on the right side for them. It really depends how much the seamless feel, ease of use, customization and mobile multimedia options matter to you.

As far as comparing this app to the previous, non-subscription versions goes, honestly, they’re much the same on the surface. This is what I expected and it does feel quite bad to think that you’ve payed considerably more money for essentially nothing new that you’re interested in. Goal alerts I can get from Eurosport’s app for free, horizontal view isn’t really that necessary, and the rest of the updates are too small and insignificant to warrant a fairly steep price increase.

Once I got past the familiar exterior though, I noticed that there were some more subtle improvements in layout and performance. Along with much faster updating, there is now one tab for multimedia, with video, photo galleries and audio all contained within. The photo Galleries have ditched the fancy looking but slow to navigate carousel default view, which is I think a good idea. The galleries are where I spend the vast majority of my time in the app, so I’m glad they’re considerably more usable in this version.

Beyond these improvements though, it’s really exactly the same app, and I get that the company has to make money, but they should have released the original app with this price scheme if they didn’t want to have any pricing backlash from customers. It was simply unavoidable when a change such as this is made.

I’m being kind to the dev team here, because there’s really not a lot else to shout about. I even noticed a bug where if you modify the home screen, and then leave the settings, you have to restart the app before anything will load in that section. However, this is a small problem and it doesn’t detract from an overall very good app. If you love the Guardian, and especially if you’re used to paying a lot of money by subscribing to the newspaper itself, then this will be almost an impulse purchase for you. If you’re like me and hardly ever bought a paper in your life, then it depends if you are willing to pay for content you don’t have to pay for, and whether or not you want to financially support this company. Personally, I want to support them, especially as the subscription is a drop in the ocean compared to buying the physical paper for the same length of time.

In summary, this small feature update is essentially a glorified excuse to charge more money. With that said, if you want a great news app that offers a bit more flavour than the BBC, I think it’s still worth downloading even at this inflated price. Just make sure you understand what you’re getting first, to avoid being disappointed later.

Whether the pricing compares well to other newspaper’s app offerings is hard to say due to the fact that other papers bundle in app access with paper subscriptions, but from what I’ve heard, they seem to be priced competitively. We’ll see in the future how things go and whether a standard price emerges from fierce competition.


My Newspaper Experiment

Image via Wikipedia

While I am a fan of quality journalism, I hardly ever read a newspaper.  I’ve always felt that they were just not worth dealing with and were too old fashioned in that they seemed to be delivering yesterday’s news which didn’t make sense to me.

I still stand by my opinion that news stories are worthless for the majority of people who are comfortable with using online means to read the latest headlines. There will always be a market for the traditional printed newspaper, but that audience will continue to diminish over time.

Where newspapers are still relevant is in their opinion pieces and use of columnists, sometimes celebrities to offer articles that are exclusive to that media outlet. This gives readers an incentive to opt for that particular publication. Things like exclusive offers and competitions also help. The issue here is that while opinion pieces and other content still work for printed media, online is suitable for not only these, but real time reporting of headline news as well.

A few days ago I decided to experiment by purchasing a weekday edition of the Guardian. I found a few articles that I enjoyed, but a lot of it I ended up just skimming through. I was surprised to go on the Guardian website and find that everything I just read in the newspaper I paid £1 for was there for free. The entire contents of every edition of the paper is listed on the site and made very easy to find. The iPhone App I have is also very convenient and while not ideal for the eyes at times, only costs the same as just over two weekday editions of the paper, and that’s for permanent access to the app. That seems pretty good value for ad-free viewing of all articles on the site.

It’s hard for me to understand why many people would pay a pound or more every day for something that is easier to navigate, read and free to view online. While sometimes it is nice to have a paper in your hands to read, it’s not such a nice feeling to make it worth wasting money, not to mention paper on every day.

The only real downside of reading on a backlit computer, iPod or iPad style screen is that you do have to deal with the effects on your eyes. However, as long as you don’t read for hours at a time and take breaks, you should be fine. With the coming to prominence of e-ink screens though, this problem will subside and the true digital revolution of newspapers can take place.

I’m not sure which of the subscription based model of the or the advertising based models of the other main news outlets is the better one, but obviously free content is preferable as long as the company can make money from it. In the end, I hope to see digital subscription or advertising based versions of newspapers become the norm and accessible via devices like the Kindle, iPad as well as in our browsers. These are already realities, but I hope as devices get more powerful, cheaper and easier on our eyes, more and more people feel compelled to give digital reading a try.

To me, a printed newspaper is a thing of the past at this point, but I appreciate that not everyone will agree with my point of view. What really counts at the end of the day is the content, and quality journalism is still just that whether it is printed on paper or viewable on a digital device.


Amazon Kindle 3

This is the new Amazon Kindle 3. The new version is now available to buy in pounds on the Amazon UK store instead of just the US one. There are two versions available. The traditional 3G version and a new wi-fi only model. The wi-fi one makes more sense to me as it’s considerably cheaper and also has better battery life. I would never really see myself needing to download books when I’m away from home so I don’t see the benefit of 3G for the vast majority of people.

If you’re going to go away on a long trip, it would be hard to find the time to get through even a handful of books, and you could easily load up enough to last the trip before leaving home. I therefore can’t see many people opting for the 3G version, even for only £30 more, it just seems unnecessary.

For £109 I may consider jumping onto the e-book bandwagon. I’m not a big reader at the moment to say the least, but I do want to get into reading again and anything that combines a traditional medium with a high tech delivery method intrigues me. Not only that but I feel that the traditional printed book is not really needed now due to the fact that printed words are so easy to replicate now in a device like this. The benefits far outweigh the negatives in my opinion. The price of admission may be high of course, but there are many free books available, and the space saving aspect is a huge selling point for me.

As far as the Kindle 3 itself, it looks like a solid improvement to an already very competitive product. I’ve already tried out the Kindle reading apps for iPod Touch, Mac and PC and how their downloading, archive and page sync systems work are excellent. I feel like a member of the Kindle reading family, and I don’t even own one of the devices yet.