When you’re The Atlantic, it takes a tricky bit of magic to cram everything you are into an app. You’re a magazine with a rich history, and a multifaceted web destination touching on policy, art and technology — and, oh, and you’re also a minute-to-minute feed of the day’s news. It’s a bit schizophrenic, but necessarily so, because The Atlantic, like so many media outlets today, has realized that it has an ability to be many things to many people.
And now all of that changes, if only slightly, in the updated Atlantic iPad app, which now encompasses the magazine, theatlantic.com, and The Atlantic Wire, all in one tidy package. The previous app, which was little more than a digital version of the magazine, is being replaced with a streamlined, unified look, where the breaking dispatches from the Wire, the breadth of voices from the website, and the depth of reporting in the magazine are all just, The Atlantic. And it’s free.
This isn’t the simple act of a branding agent’s dream; it’s an attempt to reconcile, and reintroduce, what The Atlantic is to its many audiences. The publication is aided in this by a new subscription strategy that bundles the app with the magazine while also allowing digital-only access to The Atlantic’s online product. Basically it’ll break down to three tiers: Nonpaying users, who’ll get all the web stories plus access to one magazine story a month; print subscribers (who are currently paying $24.50) with the app bundled in; and the digital-only subscription through the app, which gets you all the magazine content on The Atlantic’s site for $21.99 a year. (In our tradition of naming digital deals after columnists, can we call it the Alexis Madrigal discount?)
“We have a philosophy here where we like our readers to pay once and have access across multiple platforms,” said M. Scott Havens, vice president of digital strategy and operations for The Atlantic Media Company.
It’s a pretty good time to be The Atlantic. Circulation for the magazine was over 480,000 in 2010, an Atlantic communications staffer told me, and online traffic hit a record in May at 10 million uniques across theatlantic.com and theatlanticwire.com. Just last week, the company announced a 42-percent increase in digital advertising revenue from last year. All indications are good for The Atlantic, which is why, Havens told me, it wanted to push ahead with re-inventing the app. As he indicated in our interview about The Atlantic partnering with Pulse, one thing he and his staff are curious about is how people are consuming magazines and stories on tablets. The iPad app is a continuation of that, but folding in the many parts of The Atlantic empire. It’s a realization, he said, that the publication needs to take all the work it’s doing and put it in front of readers, no matter how they read it. “Look,” he said, “if people want to read The Atlantic on the iPad and don’t want print anymore — they don’t want the clutter, it’s for environment reasons, whatever the rationale — we need to be there.”
The app is a break from the compartmentalized strategy The Atlantic has relied on for its growing properties, where The Atlantic Wire has come to focus on breaking news and analysis, and the website — and, by extension, the magazine — is a collection of personalities and reporting. One of the few carry-overs from the website is the use of “channels” for navigation through the app, from politics and business to technology, entertainment, and more. The only branding that follows from other parts of The Atlantic universe gets prominent placement on the app’s homepage, Alan Taylor’s In Focus feature and a dedicated slot for magazine pieces. Everything else gets divvied up into channels, with In Focus effectively becoming its own channel, its photos blown out to take advantage of the iPad’s screen size.
Another interesting addition is the inclusion of Disqus comments, which will be synced from stories between the sites and the app. Which means that the next time I get into a nerd fight on a Ta-Nehisi Coates post, I can follow it from one screen to another.
The idea of putting everything back under one roof (or app, in this case), is interesting because it breaks with two assumptions: not only about how content is sorted online, but also the conventional wisdom that says seasonal and topical material should be spun into its own franchise. Think entertainment/nightlife, fashion or food apps, or even The Atlantic Wire’s app, which launched a few years ago. Bob Cohn, editorial director of Atlantic Digital, said that he and his staff wanted the focus to be on what they produce as one complete package.
“We thought the most useful thing we could do for readers is take all our sprawling content and create a unified app and put all The Atlantic content in one app,” Cohn said. From their own research, they know there is only minimal overlap in the audiences between the magazine, theatlantic.com and The Atlantic Wire. Which on its face looks like a big opportunity to literally upsell to people already familiar with your work: They’ll sell single issues for $4.99 within the app. So instead of trying to coax readers from one medium to another, the hope is to capture them all in one place.
What they’re shooting for is something of what you could call a “porridge zone,” something that fits just right for all the readers (as long as they have an iPad, of course). Cohn knows readers come to The Atlantic with different needs, as much for long-form stories as for quick hits and blog posts. “People love their iPads and want to experience journalism through the iPad,” he said. “If that’s the way they want it, we’re going to make it as seamless and wonderful as we can.”