As someone who both works in digital publishing and has a degree in photography, it has always interested me to see how big names in the creative industry are transitioning from print to digital.
To this day I am yet to use a good photographic publishing app, and unfortunately this app is not the BJP.
Art and photography magazines are one of the few genres that haven’t transitioned well to digital app editions. They seem to be thriving on blog and social sites, but when it comes to native apps they just don’t can’t seem to get it right.
The British Journal of Photography is undoubtedly the biggest fish in the photographic-publishing ocean. With a print edition costing £7.99 (a reasonable asking price for something that labels itself a journal rather than a magazine), I was surprised to download the Newsstand app and see that the digital editions cost exactly the same as the print. I’m not sure whether the BJP missed the memo about digital reader’s price expectation, or perhaps their digital offering isn’t actually a viable product that they take seriously.
Before I get into the particulars of what I think they could improve, let’s start with some good points.
What to do with landscape images on a portrait device?
Photographs come in all shapes and sizes, and rather than being an added element to make the article look good like most other publications, they are the main feature. They also don’t belong to the publishing house who’s releasing them. This means that permanently cropping images to fit device screen sizes is a route best avoided, I don’t know many photographers who would agree to ‘compromise’ their work.
So what are the alternatives? Having a single image take up half of the screen with lots of blank space underneath? Obviously the BJP didn’t think that was an option (a good call from them). Instead, landscape images are slightly cropped in when shown in portrait view and users see a message telling them to view in landscape for the full image. A smart compromise between showing the photograph as the creator intended it and having a beautiful page layout whilst in portrait orientation.
They also have an in-app browser so you don’t have to leave the app when clicking on hyperlinks which is never a bad thing. Unfortunately, the links also bring me to the negatives of the magazine.
Who was that photographer?
Six articles in, I eventually discovered four little arrows on the right that indicated to me to pull up the bottom of the screen. This revealed the photograph title and artist name, which is great, but suppose I want to go and see more from this photographer, there is no link to their site (or their area on the BJP‘s site). I have no idea where I can go to see more and I can’t even copy the photographers name so I can paste it into Google.
For an app to have such little interactivity seems pointless to me; I might as well be reading the print version so I could scrapbook the page to come back to it later.
Saying that, the BJP app does have a bookmark button; it appears when you first swipe onto an article but stays visible for less than a second before it fades away. I tried every-which-way to get it back but the only thing that worked was to swipe to the next article and back again, but once I got it to reappear by the time I’d lifted my finger off the screen the bookmark icon was gone again. Even now, I am yet to know if the button even works.
The search that doesn’t exist
As a reader, I want to have a search bar or an area where I can select specific themes and genres of photography. I may even want to search archive issue for articles on a specific photographer. None of these features are available as it stands. Again it feels as though I’m reading the print edition; being shown what photographs I’m given and not what I actually want to see.
If you ask me, the BJP would be much better off as an article-based app allowing for the reader to curate their own journal and choose what they want to see. The only thing holding this together at the moment is the stunning photographs they feature and the article content.
With Newstand’s future now on a short timer (due to Apple’s imminent release of Apple News, which you can read about here) the British Journal of Photography may want to take this chance to rethink their digital offering (especially the issue price). I’d like to see them push the boundaries and set news standards for other smaller photography-based journals to follow. For a publication that’s been in print since 1854 and is an iconic British institution it would be devastating to see them lose their authoritative stand in the industry just because they overlooked the digital finesse they could so easily achieve.
All the images featured are screenshots taken from the app on an iPad. ©British Journal of Photography