BizEd: What's in an App?

Oct. 31, 2012

Last spring, Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business in Waco, Texas, released the Baylor Business Review (BBR), its student and alumni magazine, as an iPad app. Now, with three issues in digital format, the BBR app already has been downloaded by more than 1,000 users from more than 30 countries.

In September, the school's app won a 2012 Silver W3 award from the International Academy of Visual Arts.

Here, Hankamer's communications department offers seven steps to creating a magazine app:

1. Strategize. Evaluate your magazine content to determine how the functionality and features of an app will enhance that content. In Baylor's case, the first issues delivered through the BBR app include scrolling text, links, videos, podcasts, and extra photos not published in the print version of the magazine. The fall 2012 issue also includes a slideshow, a 360-degree photo, and flip pages.

2. Pick your platform and device. The school chose to make its app available only on the iPad. The school chose not to offer an app for the iPhone because its screen is too small to provide an enriched experience. Eventually, the school would like to offer the BBR app on Android tablets.

3. Keep it concise. Very few people care to watch a ten-minute video of a guest speaker, but the content of many guest lectures could make an entertaining 60-second video. However, some audio or video features could be longer if an interesting topic requires it.

4. Choose a vendor wisely. Conduct extensive research before signing a contract, and understand what features and levels of customer service a vendor offers. The Hankamer School chose to partner with U.K.-based PressRun to complete the technical build of the BBR app, because it offered the app functionality the school wanted. Baylor now pays PressRun a monthly app-hosting fee.

5. Take your time. It took about one year from the time staff began research to the time they released the BBR app in May 2012. In that time, Hankamer staff collaborated with various departments including technology, finance, and legal, as well as with the magazine's designers at Pollei DesignWorks and representatives from PressRun and Apple.

It's important to allow ample time to account for obstacles you can encounter along the way. For example, Apple denied the school's initial app submission because it did not categorize a twice-yearly publication as a magazine app. As a result, the school was unable to offer the app on Apple's Newsstand as it originally planned. Instead, it adjusted the app's iTunes account settings and technical build specs to meet Apple's requirements, and then re-submitted the app for approval.

6. Plan for the workload. So far, the Hankamer School has not had to hire additional employees because its staff has worked out how to manage their time and use available resources. For instance, Pollei DesignWorks designs each magazine issue for print and app formats. A Baylor University photographer shoots video footage. A local freelancer has edited videos, and a graduate student intern has produced several videos. Audio podcasts are pulled from the "Business Review," a radio series of two-minute segments that have aired for seven years on the Waco NPR station.

7. View an app as a work in progress. Once you have an app in place, you can continue to diversify and expand your interactive features to offer a unique experience for readers.

For more information or to find a link to download the BBR app, visit bbr.baylor.edu/app.