Fairfax’s tablet future: SMH on iPad out tomorrow, Android coming soon

Publisher Fairfax is releasing feature-rich iPad apps for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age tomorrow in what will be seen as one of the latest large-scale tests as to whether Australian media companies can successfully move their print and online brands towards a workable paywall model.  

Monetising news and magazine content has proven a difficult challenge for contemporary media owners worldwide as the advent of free content on the internet has established an environment where readers can usually get what they’re after without paying.

The availability and sophistication of the modern search engine together with content aggregators RSS feeds blogs and the growth in social media has disrupted readers’ reliance on traditional news channels creating more than a little unease within the publishing industry.

The answer for publishers? Leverage your brands to make a feature-rich digital product that’s worth paying for and get it out there where your users are. At least that’s the thinking behind the new apps for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age which Fairfax believes combine the best of the mastheads’ print and online editions in an intuitive customisable and sharing-friendly version.

APC had a hand-on look at the apps today at their launch and it’s fair to say they provide a quick easy-to-browse and visually pleasing reading experience. Essentially an interactive magazine the design philosophy is very visual-centric with large images used in stories plus photo galleries and video players easily accessible where available. There’s also plenty of navigation options. The home screen provides Menu links to access all of the print edition’s sections and liftouts (Domain Good Weekend Spectrum Drive etc.) and an Editor’s Choice page directs readers to high-interest reads. The entire daily edition weighs in at around 8-10MB although incremental updates throughout the day provide access to the latest headlines.

In addition to browsing live functionalities can be accessed such as real-time weather and ASX quotes. Stories can be emailed and shared via Facebook and Twitter and registered Fairfax members will be able to access additional features like saving pages to read for later. Users can rearrange sections of content in order of their own interest and font sizes are also customisable. Full-screen advertisements pop up every now and then and will dominate the screen but can be flicked through after about two seconds.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age apps will be available tomorrow from the iTunes App Store. For a limited time (hinted to be a “considerable” length of time as Fairfax is hoping to build its audience) both will be on offer at no cost. Regular pricing will be $8.99 per month sold in six or twelve-month subscriptions.

And Android users aren’t missing out either. A version for Android tablets is in development now and is expected to be available within approximately three months’ time.