Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reading on the iPad Part 6: Forbes was a disappointment.

The July 18, 2010 issue of Forbes contains an editorial that lays out big changes happening at Forbes to embrace the digital world: The new Forbes web site offers more up-to-date information outside the print cycle. The new tools inside of Forbes for content creation allow richer content creation for staff, and embraces contributions from the outside in the form of blogs and feedback postings. The pages of Forbes now contain articles with significant commentary from outside. From that editorial, and a thread of commentary through a couple issues, I built up high expectations of what the online Forbes experience would be. I was disappointed.

There seems to be a basic assumption that all this new online input comes from a baseline of reading the paper edition. Although the entire content of the print edition is available on the web site, it is again on offer as a table of contents with links to articles. As with other general interest glossy magazines, I found I really wanted to turn the pages, not dispatch from the table of contents. It also seemed that Forbes on the web crammed too many overly intrusive ads into its presentation. It was quite distracting.

There is no Forbes app for the iPad. It was with hopeful anticipation that I investigated the Forbes Kindle subscription. Unfortunately, I pretty much hated everything about the experience of Forbes for Kindle on the iPad.

The beautiful glossy magazine had been ground down into a cheap paperback book. The pages shrank down to 3x6 inches and the typography was reduced to a single font in only a couple point sizes. Colorful icons and graphical navigational aids were eliminated and everything re-formatted into block paragraphs. But as if to comply with a marketing directive to be able to say, "We offer color!" a very few select photographs were retained as "color plates" scattered throughout.

There was one difference between Forbes for the iPad Kindle app that made it less usable than a paperback book: With a paperback book, you can start at the first page, and flip through all the pages. You CANNOT do that with Forbes for Kindle. You must choose an article from the table of contents. When you get to the end of the article, you can continue to other articles in the same section, but when you're through all the Features, or all the Lifestyle articles, you hit a wall and must return to the table of contents and choose another article starting point.

Worst of all, the table of contents is complete re-arrangement of the print edition organized by article priority. Feature articles appear first, then other sections and lastly is the Editorial section. This is an interesting approach conceptually, but is totally at odds with my well-established habits of travel through the print edition. I liked reading the editorial content early, then the short articles to get me limbered up for the more detailed features which I would read last, with "Thoughts" as desert.  Instead, everything is in the opposite order, under unfamiliar section headings in the table of contents, with the editorials at the end smooshed together on top of "Thoughts".

I'm so glad the subscription came with a 15 day full-refund guarantee.  I asked for my refund after 15 minutes.

I think Forbes would be extremely well served if it discontinued offering a Kindle subscription and switched over to using Everything that is good about the typography and organization of Forbes would be retained. The experience would be the same as or better than the experience of turning the pages of the print edition.

This concludes part 6. Let's move on to Reading on the iPad Part 7: Fast Company: applying my WSJ reading habits.

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