“Taking Stern magazine to the iPad” - David Heimburger at #TAS12

 by Martin Belam, 4 November 2012

I recently spoke at WAN-IFRA’s Tablet & App Summit, which formed part of the World Publishing Expo in Frankfurt. You can download all of my notes from the day in an ebook for iBooks, for Kindle or as a PDF.

Following my opening talk at the event, David Heimburger was speaking about a much more traditional approach to tablet publishing, in a talk about Stern magazine entitled “850,000 print copies per week, 7 million readers, and the challenge of reproducing a print miracle for tablet readers.”

“Taking Stern magazine to the iPad” - David Heimburger

David Heimburger is Head of Stern eMagazine, and explained to us how the weekly magazine had gone digital on tablets. For those not familiar with the publication, he explained that Stern had a print circulation in Germany of just over 800,000, but a reach of nearly 8 million because it was a family magazine, and liberally available in doctor’s waiting rooms and the like. It is well known for stunning photography and wins awards for investigative journalism.

It is always great to hear at conferences stories where people have made mistakes or the wrong decision, and David began by explaining that in 2009 they attempted to rebuild the New York Times reader idea on the Air platform. This was going to be the future of their digital publishing.

And then the iPad duly arrived without the ability to run Flash or Flash-related technologies. The “chilling effect” of Apple took hold, and Stern ditched the whole project — and the money they had spent on it — in favour of using something that bolted more easily onto their existing use of Woodwing.

Their digital philosophy is to retain all of the articles and pictures from the print edition, but to display them in new layouts for the tablet, and to add light-touch interactivity. David showed how cover images were made to be animated, and how long features could be introduced to the tablet reader via teaser animations.

I did worry that at one point we were at risk of being told that the future of magazines was essentially PDFs with a few animated GIFs thrown in, but David Heimburger sold me a little on the idea that these flourishes also served an editorial purpose. A profile of Apple’s Tim Cook on the iPad, for example, opened up with an image where his picture faded in from darkness. This was, David suggested, not just to add animation for the sake of it, but to illustrate how he had moved out of the shadow of Steve Jobs.

The editions aren’t simply static though. The games that come with the printed bundle are interactive on the tablet, with crosswords and Sudoku puzzles taking advantage of the digital format. There is also a dynamic list of the newest stories on the website included, and the picture of the day is updated during the week, even when a new edition isn’t available. David said that on the website these images are buried under a lot of content, but on the iPad they can show the photography off. It reminded me a little of the dynamic back page of the Guardian iPad edition that I worked on, which was intended to be a nod that by the time you had finished the day’s newspaper, the news agenda had probably moved on.

The sales figures for the Stern emagazine were, I thought, low. Given that their print edition has a circulation of 800,000, they are only shifting 16,000 digital copies each week on subscription, with an extra 1,000 single sale downloads. The magazine is available digitally on iOS and Android, but it skews heavily towards the iPad. Android sales only make up about 5% of the total.

And the production process involves a lot of man hours.

Stern goes to print on Monday, and Tuesday is spent producing the bulk of the digital edition. On Wednesday the release is finessed, and it is published on the evening before the physical product hits the newsstands. Getting the digital edition out involves a production manager working four days a week, seven graphic designers on the Tuesday and three on the Wednesday, a producer for the web links and video, and a quality manager testing the edition two days a week. Additionally there are two video editors adding up to ten days worth of work a week, and a producer for the HTML widgets and 360° special photographs.

Personally I think that sounds very people-heavy in production, but asked whether he thought they were taking the right approach, David Heimburger gave a great answer. He said “to be honest we’ve never tried another way, and to have real market research you have to show both alternatives.” They had, he said, previously offered a straight PDF facsimile of the print edition, and that used to sell “about 10 copies”, so he was happier that the current approach was much better than that at least.

Asked “What is biggest editorial challenge?”, he made another great point. A lot of the content in Stern is feature driven and not particularly news agenda driven. It could, he said, often be published next week, or the week after that, or two weeks previously. In that context having a weekly digital edition that isn’t dynamic is not such a big deal.


Following David Heimburger’s talk it was the turn of another publisher moving magazines into the digital space. I’ll have my notes from Jamie Bill and Jamie Jouning of Condé Nast next.

This is one of a series of blog posts about the WAN-IFRA Tablet & App Summit at the World Publishing Expo in Frankfurt. You can download all of my notes from the day in a free ebook for iBooks, for Kindle or as a PDF.

“The UX of publishing for tablets and smartphones” - Martin Belam
“Taking Stern magazine to the iPad” - David Heimburger
“Condé Nast place value in digital reach over digital sales” - Jamie Jouning & Jamie Bell
“Behind the curve - the media and the new App economy” - Stijn Schuermans
“Brazil’s newspapers close ranks against Google and Apple” - Caio Túlio Costa
“Launching ePresse to challenge Apple and Amazon in France” - Philippe Jannet
“Optimising the FT using HTML5 and customer data” - Stephen Pinches
“Windows 8: Opportunities for publishers” - Frank Wolfram & Johan Mortelmans
“Toronto Star’s Ad Lab for digital advertising innovation” - Kate Collins

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