Dave Allen

Dwell magazine and the AHAlife app

posted by , 3 Comments

Look, I know that the Internet made a hash of media publishers business plans, but that’s no excuse for not applying some serious thinking and strategy to the problem. Currently here’s why – this post from Rishad Tobaccowala on LinkedIn says it all: “In the first half of 2012 Google’s total ad revenue exceeded that of all US newspapers and magazines. Source: statista.” And today the end of The Daily came about.

I subscribe to Dwell magazine, and I’m happy with it. Yes it’s slimmed down considerably since I first started getting it many moons ago, as brand advertisers moved along to where their customers hang out – the Internet, and of course on mobile devices. Clearly they won’t be coming back anytime soon, so like all media publishers Dwell has to come up with a new business strategy for a new market.

It does a good job of keeping content fresh on its website but of course that just gives Dwell-lovers the chance to access that content for free. Dwell has an iOS app that I don’t use, as I have no reason to. It also has a digital subscription plan that appears to be the same price as the print subscription. When you break all of this down to the basics the print magazine seems to offer more convenient value than the mobile apps or the paid digital version. As I said above, the website comes free so one presumes that it is syphoning off the chance for Dwell’s publishers to get more paying customers.

My interest in what Dwell is up to is two-fold; I like the magazine and would like to see it continue, and I wonder what its owners digital strategy is. Also, this month’s print edition arrived at my door with an extra print piece – a collaboration between Dwell and AHAlife. It involves an app.

Before digging in to my experience with the app I mention there, we should remind ourselves of the shift amongst TV viewers who watch with that second screen mobile device at their sides. I think it’s safe to say that many of us also use the second screen when reading print magazines or newspapers. I often find myself typing in a url or opening an app on my iPhone or iPad when I’m reading. It’s a simple act and intuitive.

Reading Dwell recently I had my iPhone handy, so when I picked up the Dwell + AHAlife print piece and saw that it included an app experience I thought I’d give it a try. Things didn’t go well. Dwell has partnered with AHAlife and printed up a slim companion edition that includes product ads. Within the pages are symbols that let you know that you can use the app to hover over the page and receive more information of a product. The view from the iPhone perspective is a bit ugly to put it mildly:

It didn’t help that it took multiple attempts to get the app to find the content. The app comes with instructions which is the first red flag, but still, I know how to scan a page with my iPhone. This was the result way too often:

Yes, I am scanning an edition of Dwell+ Ahalife, thank you. After four attempts I got to this:

Basically an in-app e-commerce site. So on one hand, mobile e-commerce equals good strategy. On the other, was it really necessary to have me jump through multiple hoops to get to that screen? I don’t think so.

Remarkably, the Dwell+AHAlife app makes the QR code look good.

Perhaps Dwell’s management should check out Instagram founder, Mike Krieger’s 8 Principles for Building Products People Want.


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  • http://www.deanamackay.com Deana

    Hi Dave,
    I really like reading your blog posts and tweets. I find what you touch on to be of interest because there seems to be a lot of flailing about in regard to digital strategy and your experience with Dwell + AHAlife illustrates that pretty accurately. I’ve been willing to give some of these approaches a go but honestly the experience usually proves to be so clunky and pointless (QR codes!) that I now view them with suspicion. Like many people I don’t need another time suck.

    Speaking of time sucks I found the comments from Biz Stone in Sunday’s NYTimes to be pretty interesting: “It’s funny. I started following so many people on Twitter that I started not following anybody. There’s some line you cross when you can’t keep up anymore….”

    Anyway, a friend passed the following stats along to me this morning and I thought you might find them interesting in light of the Daily’s closing and your Dwell App experience (and you’ve probably seen some of these stats before). Yes, I always take stats with a grain of salt and some of these are over a year old (!) but still they make me wonder where it is all going.

    Thanks for being one of those people out there really thinking!




    .05% (about 20k users) of the Twitter population accounts for almost 50% of site traffic.

    From Cornell / Yahoo Research Paper – http://research.yahoo.com/pub/3386

    25% of users have never Tweeted (that’s 50 million accounts)
    81% of users have under 50 followers
    6% have zero followers
    10% don’t follow anyone

    From Another study by Beevolve

    From Blog at 140 Conference in New York. “According to Betaworks CEO John Borthwick, the half-life of a tweet is four minutes. What that means is that half of the total clicks of a link within a tweet come in the first four minutes of when it is posted on Twitter. Yikes!”


    Most studies put open rates somewhere between 11% and 19% so in a best case scenario 80 of every 100 emails go into space….

    - 2010 study

    In September 2012 75% of all email sent was Spam, which explains why most of it is tuned out.



    According to most sources about 35% of Apps are used 2 or less times then discarded.


    Take a look at 90 day retention rates for Music and Entertainment apps. Somewhat Low Frequency of Use, and under 35% retention for entertainment, and 20% for music.

    But Streaming shoots up to 8+ uses per week, but also with a low retention rate



    With people 25 and under Texting has become Primary Communication mode. Email as those under 25 tend to say “is for old people” and in a recent study College students viewed texting as their “#1 form of writing and cell phones as their “primary writing tools”


    18-24 year olds average 3,200 texts per month

    According to Pew Internet Study

    14 year old girls shoot up to 4,700

    In the US we send almost as many texts per month in 2012 as we did for the entire year of 2007, about 200 BILLION and in 2013 Text messages sent will likely eclipse voice minutes used in the US in 2013 at about 2.35 TRILLION