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World’s Largest Newsstand Pushes the Envelope in Mobile

By March 12, 2012Article

Zinio has quietly grown into the world’s largest and most popular newsstand. Zinio users download millions of magazine issues a month – in 33 languages, selling in 20 currencies – from almost every country worldwide and on today’s most popular mobile devices. But it wasn’t always this way. Our journey to mobility required innovation and a company-wide desire to exceed expectations. Here are the lessons we learned in making our business mobile.
Begin with the end in mind
The first step in developing a mobile strategy is to assess the consumer’s market readiness and demand. When the mobile adoption rates started to show signs of significant growth, we knew it was time to take our PC-based business on the road. We saw the writing on the wall. We felt it was critical for us to embrace the mobile audience, especially road warriors and global business travelers.
But that was easier said than done. We needed to be able to deliver a vast amount of content along with high-quality indexing and fast search capabilities – and be committed to creating an infrastructure that would enable Zinio to deliver to almost any mobile device and any operating system – wherever and however our customers desire.
We knew we would not just be pushing the envelope to come up with a solution, but we would be defining a new access point for an entire industry. But what consumer problems were we solving? What did consumers really want? After analyzing our market, we decided to launch our first mobile efforts on the iPhone. In 2009, the iPhone had proven to be addictive to our core audience. It was one of the most seductive mobile devices from a usability standpoint. In early 2010 we pioneered magazine reading on the iPad, as one of the first apps on the iPad when it entered the market.
We then expanded to Android, Windows 7, WebOS and RIM OS developments. Creating a flawless and sustainable app in the midst of a myriad of changing hardware and software requirements requires a strong commitment to success and the ability to remain laser focused on each endeavor.
Listen to customer feedback
There is one simple rule in mobile success: get good ratings. If your business is in an extremely competitive environment, you can’t afford not to make customers happy. Of course, the faster you get there, the better. In the end, user feedback will define how successful your product will be. Designing a strong mobile app comes down to your customers’ usability interests and what makes their life better. Utility, ease of use and convenience are paramount.
For instance, our Zinio customers tend to read on their morning work commute. They don’t want to get on the train or subway and realize they didn’t have time to download the latest issue of their magazine and now can’t read it. In designing our app, we built an auto-download feature that works while they sleep. We focus heavily on our customers’ usability interests and their reading cycle.
Learn from mistakes
Avoiding pitfalls is important, but even more important is being self-aware enough to learn from mistakes made. While we strive for perfection and quality, we do so understanding that nobody is perfect. Today, as each product goes to market, we immediately start learning. We soak up as much insight as we can and funnel it right back into the product enhancement process.
We’ve learned through product analytics tracking, user groups, general forums and consumer commentary that the more intuitive the user interface is, the more effective the results will be. A mobile app needs to be intuitive and easy to use. Mask any complexity that might exist from the user in a simple, intuitive experience – create “simp-lexity.”
Regardless of what industry you’re in, you’ll inevitably be dealing with different generations of technology adopters and their respective sets of expectations. People who grew up in a very traditional world, for instance, are used to traditional media and information in a page-by-page format with not too many bells and whistles; they just want to get the results and move on. Designing a user interface for that audience is very different from designing for people in their early 20s. They are all about exploration, video content and interactivity that take them well beyond the content they originally look for.
Making decisions on building apps without understanding the expectations of your target audience could become a huge pitfall. This often results in having to back up in your development and strategy.
Global relationship building required
One lesson that we learned early on is that getting your content, and your app itself, distributed on multiple platforms requires relationship building with many sets of partners. From device manufacturers to the operating system owners and even the mobile network carriers, all three are critical to a successful strategy. However, if you are not careful, focus can be muddled given the challenges of designing for a fragmented device landscape.
True quality for mobile apps also means a commitment to worldwide reach, literally. Apps break down global barriers. This means your app should speak to the world, in each native language. Localization is a critical part of doing mobile business these days. Global access is a true business opportunity, especially if your company is in a highly competitive market. You can get an edge by making your service available around the world instead of just focusing in a certain country or region.
There is another advantage to investing in and building relationships with device manufacturers. These partners will help you innovate. They provide insight into what may be coming down the road. Understanding how the market will change is often critical to enabling a company to get in front of an opportunity.
Focus on your core competency
One of the secrets to achieving our goals at Zinio can be credited to our strong partner, MarkLogic. We were fortunate to work with MarkLogic as our partner in bringing our app to life. They worked with us in designing the back-end infrastructure to make it possible to deliver our content to subscribers seamlessly anywhere in the world at any time. They provide us with:

  • A content repository that enables rapid aggregation and content flow of Zinio’s content that is then adapted for export in a common format to mobile devices
  • A Big Data platform for rapid search of our content across terabytes and petabytes of data
  • An operational database for unstructured information since a relational database could not meet the needs of the XML nature of our content

A crucial aspect of MarkLogic’s solution is that they enabled us to get to market much faster – yet also in a very stable capacity and format, delivering our content across different channels without any worries around the quality of the user experience. Not an easy thing to achieve, especially when dealing with 1,000 different versions of Android operating platforms on the back end. Not delivering stability and a great user experience will impact a company’s branding as well as trigger customer churn.
The lesson here is to avoid the “invented here” syndrome and, instead, work with a partner that can help make sure your mobile app is as successful and stable as possible. MarkLogic continues to work us as our platform evolves and we create custom versions of publications with additional interactive features for our subscribers.
Going mobile is a true commitment that runs throughout the entire organization. When you decide to go with a mobile strategy, you need to make a full commitment to the company’s investment over the long term. It’s a commitment to taking the time to ensure your strategy initially is well thought out plus a commitment to evolving the strategy as the mobile market evolves. If you are in the midst of creating a mobile strategy and need some advice, feel free to reach out.
Jeanniey Mullen is the global chief marketing officer for Zinio, as well as the world’s first all-digital, lifestyle magazine for women, VIVmag. Often referred to as a pioneer in the digital arena, Mullen has been at the forefront of digital’s largest contributions, including email marketing, mobile and now, digital publishing.

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