Renowned newspaper designer Mario Garcia was quick to get his hands on an iPad when the Apple tablet first hit the market. It didn't take long for him to realize that tablets can be a "game changer" for the industry.
Garcia has earned his reputation as one of the leading newspaper designers in the world with numerous prestigious redesign projects, including The Wall Street Journal, The Miami Herald and Die Zeit. Naturally, his philosophy that the audience comes first has left its imprint on all the digital projects he's taken up.
Garcia will speak at the 18th World Editors Forum in Vienna (12-15 October) at a session dedicated to successful tablet applications. In this e-mail interview he shares his thoughts on the latest developments in tablet publishing.
WAN-IFRA: You have written a lot about the unique experience that must be found on tablets... How do you feel newspapers' efforts stack up thus far?
GARCIA: We are making progress, but it is slow progress; first, many newspaper publishers and editors do not see the tablet making money for them quickly, and that is a drawback, because in the case of the tablet one must be patient. There is no question in my mind that the tablets are, indeed, game changers for the industry. But the payoff is not going to come in a moment - more like three to five years. However, the tablet as a platform must be introduced as soon as possible by all titles.
In terms of the news apps that we see, many are beginning to get away from the "let's copy the printed newspaper" model and creating real news apps with personality and where the platform is utilized to its potential. It will take time.
WAN-IFRA: Which newspapers have impressed you and why?
GARCIA: I like what Tages Anzeiger of Switzerland has just done with its new tablet edition. I like what many Scandinavian dailies are beginning to do, Dagens Nyheter of Sweden, for example. I read El País and The New York Times on the tablet all the time for their superb content, but they are NOT there yet in breaking away from the newspaper look and feel and offering more videos and pop-up moments. And, of course, Germany's Bild, that popular mass market daily, has some of the best pop-up moments of any newspaper in the tablet.
WAN-IFRA: What are some absolute musts for newspaper publishers to give their readers unique content on this platform?
GARCIA: You must create a unique, curated tablet edition; appoint a tablet editor; appoint a photo/video editor; and design not just for the brain and the eye, but also for the finger, which becomes a protagonist on this platform. Readers want things to happen in a non-linear format. They don't want to flip pages on the tablet - not all the time, anyway. The tablet must make the finger happy.
WAN-IFRA: What are the most common mistakes that newspapers make when transferring a printed product onto a tablet?
GARCIA: Transferring is the big mistake. Forget transferring! Pretend there is no printed product and that you are here to create a tablet-only newspaper. Then abandon the legacy syndrome that suffocates, and move on to create tablet experiences. Do not think that the tablet edition is an online edition either. The tablet is its own platform, able to give stories "longer legs."
WAN-IFRA: In your blog you mention the importance of 'thinking like the audience'. When newspapers are creating an app, what is the best way for them to know what their audience wants?
GARCIA: The tablet is a lean-back platform. Readers want to sort of disconnect (while connected) with the tablet. Give me the experience of the movies, a little TV, some radio, some newsweekly magazine reading experience à la Life of the '60s. Relax with the tablet.
WAN-IFRA: How can a newspaper go about building an interactive relationship with its users?
GARCIA: See if you can customize content (which Tages Anzeiger does nicely now). Create a tablet edition that talks to the reader, from one person to another. Create these "content suites" that are so personal that you wish to come there daily, at that time of the day when you take off your shoes and lie on the couch.
WAN-IFRA: One recent study estimated that about eight percent of American adults own a tablet. Given that this is a fairly low percentage, how important do you think tablet apps are to newspapers?
GARCIA: They are going to be the platform of choice for obtaining information, no question. In that sense (see answer to first question), it is not a matter of IF a newspaper goes tablet, but WHEN and HOW. Every newspaper should have at least a 1.0 edition of the tablet as soon as possible.