Content is king but so is the delivery platform

CW

One of the benefits of being a member of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is the bi-monthly magazine, CW.

Every other month, the printed publication originally known as Communication World would come through your letterbox filled with useful and highly-readable content that offered knowledge, insight, interviews, case studies, how-to features and a host of articles addressing issues, trends and the actualities of modern communication management, internal and external, as practiced by people across the world.

In my two-plus decades of IABC membership, I regarded CW as among the top three most valuable member benefits, alongside professional development and member connectivity. I was an occasional contributor to the magazine for a number of years since the early 90s.

Some months ago, it emerged that IABC would cease publication of the printed CW and offer it only in digital form. On May 14, IABC announced the first edition of the new CW digital that will be published monthly, available on desktop, mobile and iOS devices with an Android version coming (and which is now available).

[...] “The great thing about going completely digital is that Communication World will be available to download anywhere — on your smartphone, computer or tablet. And all the content is shareable with a tap of your finger, even video,” said Natasha Nicholson, executive editor for Communication World. “Having CW available as an interactive app is going to create a much better, more interactive experience for the reader.”

One of the main reasons the magazine went completely digital was because some overseas members of IABC wouldn’t receive their copies for several weeks after mailing, making the content far less timely. Nicholson explains that by going digital, everyone will be able to receive each issue as soon as it becomes available.

There’s more to IABC’s news, too. For the next four months, IABC says that CW digital will be free of charge to anyone.

[…] the magazine will be available to anyone in the world for free for the next four months (until the end of September 2013), at which time the subscription will continue to be free to members while non-members will pay $119 per year or $12.99 per issue.

I think this is a great move by IABC although I can imagine the complete shutdown of the print publication won’t be easy for some members to warmly embrace.

Part of winning those hearts and minds to the new-format CW will be what the “CW digital experience” is like, one that ought to be utterly compelling so that you don’t really miss not having the paper magazine in your hands.

I would define “utterly compelling” as a combination of things like these:

  1. Great content which, in IABC’s case, can literally go without saying.
  2. Easy access and seamless retrieval of each edition, whether that’s downloading or reading on the website.
  3. Mobile apps that not only aid the pleasurable content-consumption experience but also enable and encourage reader/author/publisher engagement.

Based on my experience with this first edition of CW digital, the content is unquestionably terrific! However, IABC has some major work to do with the other two items I’ve mentioned.

Some screenshots illustrate what I experienced.

Accessing CW digital from the link in IABC’s press release produced a visual mess in my default Chrome browser on a Windows 7 desktop computer.

cw-chrome

I just couldn’t get that menu to reduce or minimize or whatever so that I could see the content itself. Maybe a glitch at the time I accessed the publication. But it did this every time I tried it.

The only success I got was using Internet Explorer. It’s not a browser I ever use unless I have to…

cw-ie

Not a good start.

I decided to download the publication from the download link at the top right of the screen display. Clicking it produced a little window telling me that a 4-meg PDF would download. Another click to begin, and the magazine arrived.

cw-pdf

To be honest, the last thing I ever want to do is read a publication as a PDF file on a computer. It’s not an experience I associate with a good time. One option I have is to load it onto my Kindle ebook reader. What would be great, though, is if IABC made a version for Kindle available. Easy to do.

What strikes me most about these steps – apart from  the hurdle-jumping I had to do – is how the digital magazine looks just like content output from a print-publishing system. It’s what CW was like before.

Maybe that’s part of the plan but it seems to me that something huge is missing in the evolution to digital only: look at the example of what Atlantic Media has done with Quartz magazine.

I have Android mobile devices so I was very interested when the news came that the Android app was available. I thought I’d install it on my Android tablet, a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 LTE from EE, running Android version 4.1.2.

When I went to get the app from Google Play on the tablet, imagine my surprise and disappointment to see the message “Your device isn’t compatible with this version.”

cw-tabletgoogleplay

I tried again, this time from a Samsung Galaxy SII smartphone also running Android 4.1.2.

Success this time. But the app offered me a confusing and unsatisfactory experience, starting with being given choices that suggest I need to subscribe or at least pay for the issue (it’s supposed to be free until September, remember?).

cw-sii-1cw-sii-2cw-sii-3

In summary, CW digital has great content. It’s a good move by IABC to migrate its flagship publication to a digital format, for the reasons they mention in their announcement (and others, too, I imagine, eg, cost savings).

Yet the poor execution of the platform isn’t a good start and, in my view, is a major impediment to gaining enthusiastic adoption of the new publication that now has no alternative form.

I look at it this way: IABC has three months to listen to feedback and get it right – to aim for that utterly compelling experience – before charging kicks in in September.

[Note: I was an active IABC member for 23 years until last November, so I'm currently a lapsed member. I have critical opinions about IABC and its current leadership. None of that has influenced anything I've written in this post about CW; I'm mentioning this fact purely for transparency.]

About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.