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Flipboard is Your Personal Magazine

Nxtbook Media

In July of 2010, the world met the very first “social magazine,” known as Flipboard. Or rather, a select type of readers did. 

When Flipboard came to market, it launched as an iPad-app only publication, “inspired by the beauty of print and designed for iPad,” as the original press release read.

Since that day, Flipboard’s magazines – now in the range of 15 million – could only be opened through a mobile app, though the publication grew beyond the iPad to include iPhones and Android devices. The interface was made for mobile, and it has thrived. This is what makes Flipboard’s next move seem a bit, well, backward.

In a time when apps are dominating our conversations and media is racing to embrace mobile, Flipboard announces they have released a desktop version. They’re not just dipping a toe into it, either: their site announces the desktop version is “a major new frontier on our quest to build the world’s best personal magazine.” They have effectively announced that the desktop version isn’t an orphan project meant to test if this style of content aggregation can work in a desktop browser. Rather, they see this evolution as part of the product’s original vision: “to bring a print-like aesthetic to digital content.”

Internet and Reader Evolution

Flipboard is first and foremost an aggregator of social and news content, allowing readers to follow topics and publishers of their choice. They can “flip” articles into a magazine personalized for them, and start to amass content related to their specific interests. The medium is highly visual and usually designed to reflect a magazine’s feel. When Flipboard was originally being designed – before the iPad was released – the founders were struggling in making their vision fit the Internet’s capabilities at the time. Now, however, both the Internet and digital readers have evolved. Flipboard found that there are a segment of readers who do not use their phones as often to browse, opting to use their computers instead.  According to recent comScore research, personal computers (PCs) remain the top choice for accessing the Internet during the weekdays. This could be because most people are at work and aren’t using their phones or tablets at that time. Peak Internet usage for tablets hovers around 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., which means a tablet-focused platform like Flipboard could be missing out on significant readers before then.

The Internet has also grown to include more robust capabilities since Flipboard’s launch. Reading and navigating the Web has become easier. Responsive design has been a strong catalyst for making screen reading a more pleasant experience and a critical factor in creating a similar experience across multiple screen sizes. Flipboard’s move to desktop demonstrates a vote of confidence in not only the advancements in the technology available, but also in readers’ continued use of it.

What Publishers Can Learn from Flipboard

Flipboard calls itself a personalized social magazine, but some might pause at the term. After all, Flipboard doesn’t offer a cover to cover reading experience; rather, the platform relies on RSS feeds and can be as overwhelming as one. Flipboard also lacks an editorial voice, something good magazines develop and hone after years of back and forth between writers and readers. The mishmash of content might inform, but it doesn’t guide the reader as a magazine does.

However, the definition of “magazine” is expanding – cross-pollinating – and lessons learned in one arena is adaptable in new, previously unrelated territories.

For instance, Flipboard is immediately embracing responsive design, acknowledging there is no one-size-fits-all solution for screens anymore, even if they fit into a single category of “personal computer.” They also designed the interface specifically for the medium, that is the desktop Web. They design pages to scroll instead of “flip,” and use a click in place of a tap. However, they also played close attention to creating a similar experience across desktop and mobile devices. They maintained the core capability of clipping articles or topics into a personalized magazine.

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Choosing Between Mobile and PC Focus

This news is big: Flipboard made a significant impact when it first launched as an iPad-only magazine, and because it was so successful since then, it’s just as significant that they’re focusing now on desktop publishing. If you’re wondering if you should start looking at your own desktop edition, we have some advice: check your metrics. In the decade plus that we’ve been in digital publishing, we know that the best decisions come from a place of informed strategy, rather than reacting to what another publisher is doing. So take to your metrics and start analyzing the following:

1. Which platform gets the most traffic right now? Is it your tablet, smart phone or desktop edition? Have the numbers changed from the previous year? How do they compare to expectations for your audience’s trends? For a point of reference, readers accessing one of our digital editions favored the desktop edition (66.73%) over using their phones (17.45%) or tablets (15.74%).

2. When do people access your digital editions? If your readers tend to access your publications while at work, they’ll likely prefer a desktop version. If they like to read late at night, the tablet might be a better platform for you.

3. Who spends more time in your magazine, mobile or desktop readers? Time spent with your publication often indicates a reader’s interest in your content and the reader’s value to advertisers. More dedicated readers should get the lion’s share of your focus, whether that’s your desktop or mobile readers.

4. Which platform gets more conversions? Whether you define “conversion” as a sale, a subscription, or a click on a call to action, you’ll want to know which platform gets readers to convert. Do they favor the impulse-click which is more characteristic of a mobile version, or do they wait until they can think on it in front of their computer? If a conversion is an important goal of your publication, you need to know which platform tends to succeed in this area.

5. Do you have a high early bounce rate on your PC version? If you have a high early bounce rate – or people access the magazine and then quickly navigate away – it usually means readers want to read the PC version, but find the experience doesn’t match their expectations. This is a classic case where a little experimentation in enhancing the PC version will quickly show if the interest is able to be cultivated, or if people still prefer their content coming from a different source.

As you do your research, make sure you keep an eye towards self-fulfilling prophecy. If you haven’t given any resources to your desktop version in the past, it could be your engagement, traffic and conversions are low simply because your product is not engaging. Make sure you factor in any imbalances that currently exist between the quality of the mobile and desktop products.

Remember, this isn’t a question of having EITHER a desktop version OR an app. The industry is buried in data proving a cross-platform strategy is necessary for survival, and Flipboard’s move to desktop underscores even a successful mobile publisher should have a version available for PC users. Rather as publishers build their content strategy, they should evaluate the significant role each platform will play in the course of a publication’s life cycle.

Nxtbook Media

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  • Phone: 866-268-1219
  • E-Mail: glusby@nxtbookmedia.com
  • Website: www.nxtbookmedia.com
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