Interview: Google expands mobile mag products amid web threat

Google(s goog) launched its Play Magazines storefront for UK Android devices on Thursday and relaunched its Currents Flipboard app competitor, and more magazine announcements are due in a couple of weeks.

After a late-night launch session, Madhav Chinnappa, Google’s EMEA news and magazines strategic partnership head, told me about the initiatives…

Magazines for money

Google Play Magazines UKAlready launched in the US in June, Google Play’s magazine storefront has over 100 titles from more than a dozen UK publishers, including IPC, Conde Nast, Hearst, Immediate and Future. “We want to roll out Google Play Magazines around the world,” Chinnappa says.

Play Magazines rivals Apple’s iTunes Newsstand, but what is immediately noticeable is that it has a different pricing strategy. While many publishers’ paid Newsstand fortunes have rocketed by offering free initial container apps with a single free taster magazine, Play only promises a free 14-day trial to customers who pay to download regardless. That is like the customer-acquisition difference between a freemium Spotify and a paid, free-trial Rhapsody.

“All titles have a free trial period,” Chinnappa says. “You can subscribe and get one issue for free. “The growth of mobile phones and tablets is making these devices fantastic opportunities for magazine monetisation.”

Currents relaunch

Google Currents v2Google’s magazine-like, page-flipping web content aggregator app Currents has been updated with a look Chinnappa says is greatly improved.

He’s right. Article summaries bubble up as though they were Google Now cards and the whole UI is much more in keeping with Android’s latest Jelly Bean version, while the Breaking News section is more relevant to readers in different countries.

We understand further announcements about Android news and magazine publications are due in a couple of weeks.

… While the web burns?

As Google works on these mobile content platforms, German and French governments are considering laws that may threaten its core platform, the web, by requiring payment of a license for crawling and excerpting stories.

“Google believes in an open web and control at the publisher level,” Chinnappa says.

“Publishers have that control right now (with robots.txt files), they’ve had it since the beginning of the web. It’s helped the web develop in the way that it has.

“There are a number of business solutions that Google has to help them on this, and a number of experiments to help them.

“We’re in that phase of digital disruption – we’re in the middle of it. I don’t think legislation is the way to go – it’s got to be about experimentation.”

No interactivity yet

Noticeably, titles on Play Magazines are page-turning replicas — unlike some on iPad, whose publishers sometimes opt for native tablet bells and whistles that are nevertheless more costly to produce.

We’re working to increase the sexiness and interactivity of these titles – but we’re going at the pace of the publisher,” Chinnappa says.

“One of the things I’ve found is that the interactive elements are really quite complicated. You’ve got to think about your CMS and your workflow. Some titles just want the plain vanilla PDF page turner.”

Device differences

Many publishers moan that developing publications for Android devices, with their many screen sizes and form factors, is difficult.

nexus 7 japan“Things may be changing,” Chinnappa reckons. “We are optimising for the major factors and we’re consolidating around what they are. What we’re solving for publishers is to make sure that, when it’s in the storefront, it looks good on the 10-, 7- and 4-inch versions.”

Despite lacking interactivity, some magazine nevertheless have plain-text versions of magazine articles…

“As much as I love my Nexus 7, it’s a little too big to read during a crowded tube journey – whereas, with my phone, I can read quite easily,” Chinnappa says. “So having the text feed makes the articles much easier.”