Jason Pontin, editor of Technology Review has a long history in publishing, he was editor-in-chief of Red Herring during the dotcom boom-to-bomb days. He's written a great article about why publishers jumped onto the app trend and how some painful lessons have brought many back to the web and open technologies.
And Technology Review? We sold 353 subscriptions through the iPad. We never discovered how to avoid the necessity of designing both landscape and portrait versions of the magazine for the app.
We wasted $124,000 on outsourced software development. We fought amongst ourselves, and people left the company. There was untold expense of spirit.
I hated every moment of our experiment with apps, because it tried to impose something closed, old, and printlike on something open, new, and digital.
Last fall, we moved all the editorial in our apps, including the magazine, into a simple RSS feed in a river of news. We dumped the digital replica.
Now we're redesigning Technologyreview.com, which we made entirely free for use, and we'll follow the Financial Times in using HTML5, so that a reader will see Web pages optimized for any device, whether a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet, or a smart phone. Then we'll kill our apps, too.
Publishers can't afford the app maintenance costs, having to update and support multiple versions is expensive. It's much better to focus on HTML5 knowing that the tools and the ecosystem will over the coming years provide everything that's needed to create a web based publication that rivals the functionality of an app -- and without forking over 30% of sales to Apple, or anyone else.
However, if you can afford the 30% cut to Apple -- it can be a hell of an effective distribution and marketing platform. In some cases it can be a lot more effective than your own marketing and distribution channels.