Replica editions dominate recent newspaper iPad apps

In the newspaper tablet app race, the replicas are winning.

My informal review of news iPad apps released in March reveals that the majority are PDFs or PDF-like recreations of the print edition, dominated by a few vendors and newspaper groups.

Tecnavia developed apps released by four different newspaper chains this month, while Presteligence, NewsSynergy and Paperlit backed another handful of offerings. Among the apps I found, only the Tulsa World and The Daily developed their apps in-house.

The Daily is an outlier because its new Elizabeth Taylor Tribute Magazine paid app is meant as a one-time offering and was built using the framework of the daily publication.

Among the other 20 apps I found, the trend toward vendor-supported replica apps is both promising and troubling. Only the Greensboro News-Record and the Brainerd (Minnesota) Dispatch could be classified as “interactive” — resembling a traditional Web experience as opposed to a static representation of a printed page. Some replica apps also include breaking news updates and other limited Web-like features.

But, it is good that papers smaller than the New York Times and Wall Street Journal – among the early tablet adopters — are pursuing tablet audiences.

However, the use of PDF apps also points to an industry-wide failure to capitalize on the new opportunities mobile touch-screen tablet devices allow. Replica apps have their place in a portfolio of mobile offerings, but they cannot and should not be viewed as anything other than niche and transitional models.

Some segment of the current print audience will want and value replica apps on tablet devices. Using a vendor to serve those readers is fairly easy and a worthwhile strategy.

But to attract new consumers to local journalism, newspapers will need to develop more interactive, tablet-native experiences, including digital-only features and content.

And, more importantly, mobile and tablet platforms will soon be core to the news distribution business. To understand these devices, how to create engaging experiences on them, and how to create content for them, requires newspapers to develop new competencies in-house. Outsourcing these efforts to a vendor is a short-term solution that could have long-term negative consequences if an organization fails to learn these skills now.

Certainly, in some cases these replica-only apps are only a first step for newsrooms. I know several organizations have launched replica editions because of the low development costs and speed-to-market, and they are already planning more interactive versions.

The Tulsa World is one. According to president John Bair, the paper started planning its next iPad app the day the current version was approved in the iTunes store.

“Nothing we have ever done or are currently doing represents a final outcome. We are always evolving, as will our apps,” he wrote in an email. “To believe our first app on this device represents a final presentation is incorrect. The feedback we get from users, coupled with new technological offerings and capabilities, will dictate future offerings.”

For the month of March, here are the news apps I discovered, arranged by publisher and vendor or developer. This is not a comprehensive list. If I missed any, please leave a comment below.

These first three apps are interactive or Web-like offerings, the rest are more replica or PDF-like:

The Daily
Elizabeth Taylor Tribute Magazine

Landmark Media Enterprises (Xtern Software)
Greensboro News-Record

Morris Communications (NewsSynergy)
Brainerd Dispatch

World Publishing Co.
Tulsa World

MaineToday Media (Paperlit)
Kennebec Journal
Morning Sentinel
The Portland Press Herald

GateHouse Media (Presteligence)
The Repository

Lee Enterprises (Tecnavia)
Arizona Daily Star

Media General (Tecnavia)
The Tampa Tribune
News & Messenger

SourceMedia Group (Tecnavia)
The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette

MediaNews (Tecnavia)
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Pasadena Star-News
Whittier Daily News
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Redlands Daily Facts
Torrance Daily Breeze
Long Beach Press-Telegram
Los Angeles Daily News
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Broomfield (Colorado) Daily Enterprise

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  • Joakim Ditlev

    As of March 31st I no longer work at Zmags. Please contact Peter Velikin, VP of Marketing for any business related issues.

    Med venlig hilsen / Best regards,

    Joakim Ditlev

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the clarification!

  • Anonymous

    Yvette -

    As you know I definitely love the strategy (and the design of the app) the Oklahoman took. If people have not seen our original coverage here it is:

    But, this specific story was limited to apps that launched this month. In that group, vendor-built replica apps were by far the rule.



  • Anonymous

    Damon, I’m surprised you left out The Oklahoman’s iPad app, which you wrote about in an early news apps story. Ours was developed in-house, and is not a PDF or replica. Instead, we carefully designed the iPad app to represent and complement our newspaper design, using similar colors and fonts, but not copying exactly. Please take a look and update this story. Thanks!

  • Joakim Ditlev

    Good to see that so many news publishers are moving on the new media. Getting experience now will be crucial as tablets will be something everybody owns in a few years from now.
    I miss to see how many publishers work on web-apps rather than native apps. By optimizing existing content for the mobile browser, there’s a big opportunity for news and magazine publishers and they don’t need to worry about the 30% Jobs-tax and censorship either. It leaves much more control to the publisher – what’s not to like about that?

  • David D

    Another reason newspapers could be gravitating towards the replica apps is that they seem to get approval from Apple much quicker than interactive apps. Ours has been in limbo – neither approved or rejected – for close to a month.

  • Anonymous

    Donn -

    I agree. I don’t see a problem with offering replica apps – especially as a transitional and retention model for current print subscribers. But as you point out it is only the first step.

    With all the talk about mobile I am not sure newspapers are really learning any faster than we did with the Web.

    I am concerned with outsourcing everything as it leaves the paper without the needed expertise to take the next app to the next level. We are 15 years into the Web and we are still working on getting that platform right.

  • donnf

    Why newspaper replica first? It is what our customers are asking for on their iPad.
    Not interactivity. Not cool. But newspaper delivered without newsprint.

    We’ve developed a picture and video app — which is in adhoc distribution — but our editor said if we launched it before our replica our customers — paying subscribers — would think we are bonkers.

    So we hope to please our customers first then go after the other markets.

  • Anonymous

    It was developed by Sachmanya out of Palo Alto who also built our iPhone apps for the West Seattle Herald and Ballard News Tribune. They won Best of Show for a product they created called YAPPER (YourAppMaker) which is essentially an enhanced RSS Reader but with some unique features.
    The change to iOS 4.3 threw them however, disabling our push notifications and forcing them to step back to a simpler version but the apps work and we’ve gotten good feedback on them.

    The story submission process will take a leap forward soon when the Facebook integration is in place but the YouTube and Flickr integration works pretty well. We are going to control the advertising in the apps with Google Ad Manager.

  • Anonymous

    I love the look of it at first glance. I will download it and see how it works. Was this developed in-house or did you work with an outside developer?



  • Anonymous

    Our app is not a replica but it IS still essentially in Beta form with changes still to be made…but your impressions about it would be appreciated.

    If you do download it and look it over, your feedback can be sent to