The latest release of Digital Publishing Suite – Release 27 – is now available. With support for Pinterest, device GPS integration and Free Article Preview with Metering, the latest features in Digital Publishing Suite are designed to help you drive awareness of, interest in, and revenue from your publications. In addition, we have refined Folio Producer Service so that you can streamline and accelerate production.
New features that are now available, in release 27, among others:
- Social Sharing through Pinterest
- Device GPS Integration
- Free Article Preview with Metered Content
- Copy Folio
For a full list of features available in release 27, visit Bob Bringhurst’s Help Site, What’s New in this Release.
Pinterest Added to Social Sharing
Socially sharing images has become mainstream, and DPS apps lend themselves to this medium since they are often well designed with striking visuals. In addition to existing social sharing functionality, you can now allow readers to share the image of an article page on their Pinterest boards. Their followers can be hooked in by great visuals and subsequently experience the interactive and informational content in your app, such as recipes, infographics, fashion, and home improvement techniques. The goal with this feature is to increase the reach of your content through your readers’ social networks. With this capability, corporate publishers can drive brand awareness and magazine and newspaper publishers can develop new readership. Available for iPad and iPhone.
The following visuals illustrate the flow of the Pinterest reading experience in DPS.
- A reader shares the image of an article page from the app and posts it on her Pinterest page.
- Her follower clicks on the Pinterest image.
- Once the image is open, she clicks on “Visit Website.”
- After clicking, readers can experience interactive article content on device or in the Web Viewer.
- Read the updated article on the DPS DevNet: Integrated Social Sharing with Digital Publishing Suite
- Watch Colin Fleming’s video of Pinterest social sharing on Adobe TV.
Device GPS Integration
Mobile readers are exactly that: mobile. Your consumers are reading content on the bus, at home, and at work, in different geographies and locations. You may need to deliver different types of content to people based on location. GPS integration allows you to deliver targeted content through integration with GPS location data from the device. Available for iPad and iPhone.
Consider the following use cases:
- Promotional Entitlement Banner Enterprise customers can place a geo-specific promotional banner in the custom store or library. For example, if you’re sponsoring an event in Los Angeles, you can promote a free folio to each attendee in LA by showing a targeted banner. When users click on the banner, they can enter login credentials and be entitled to the folio. This allows you to connect with the audience and capture data from attendees. Once attendees download the folio, they remain entitled to it after they leave Los Angeles. The geolocation does not change the content that they are entitled to, but only changes the banner that they see in the custom store or library.
- Region-specific folios If you have a sales enablement app, you may want to entitle sales team members to region-specific content, such as lists of pricing, regional distributors, and retail locations. For example, your U.S. sales team will see a different set of folios in their library from the Latin America sales team. As in the use case above, if a rep downloads a folio from the U.S. and then travels to Latin America, the folios downloaded in the U.S. will still be available on her device. Requires custom store or library.
- Region specific article or ad The first two use cases cover GPS integration with the custom store or library. In this use case, you can change content within the article based on geography. For example, you may have an article on farmers markets, and want to provide HTML content on local markets. In the case of an advertisement, GPS integration allows you feature local vendors to help drive regional sales. In the image below, the advertiser is a European railroad company that has different travel agents in each U.S. city.
- Read the DPS DevNet Article: Getting Started with the Geolocation API
- Watch Colin Fleming’s video on GPS Device Integration.
Free Article Preview with Metered Content
In our last release, we enabled Free Article Preview, allowing publishers to pique reader interest by providing selected free articles in a folio, and offering upsell or subscription prompts once consumers click on a protected article. Previously, articles were either designated as “free” or “protected” in the Folio Producer Service. As promised in Colin Fleming’s Release 26 video on Free Article Preview, you can now set up an additional content type — “metered” — and define a certain number of articles available for free to engage readers before encouraging them to purchase premium content. Once readers encounter the paywall, convert them into buyers with subscription and upsell prompts.
The following images show samples of metered content and upsell prompts.
- Read the updated article on Adobe DPS DevNet: Free Article Preview
In release 27, production staff can also streamline the production process and improve collaboration with new Copy Folio functionality. With this feature, you can copy an entire folio to your account using one-click access from the Folio Producer Service, eliminating the need to copy and rebuild a folio article-by-article. Production staff can insert content, including editorial and advertising, from content contributors and agencies more easily with this streamlined Copy Folio workflow. In addition, you can automate folio copying with access to the Copy Folio API. Watch the Copy Folio video from Colin Fleming on Adobe TV.
App Studio is introducing a new package that enables higher education institutions to incorporate digital publishing into curriculum and equip students to create apps for tablets and smartphones. Customers can also use the new education plan to create digital marketing and campus communications. App Studio is the software that uses HTML5 to transform InDesign and QuarkXPress projects into native apps for iOS, Kindle Fire, and Android devices. Because it works in conjunction with the leading design tools, App Studio is easy to learn and affordable to implement on campus.
The new App Studio Education Plan includes:
— 250 user subscriptions to App Studio
— Up to 100 unique course projects
— 4 x Multi-Issue Pro plans (four different digital publications for the iPad and iPhone)
— 1 x Multi-Issue Premium plan (one digital publication for iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, Android tablet, and Android smartphone)
— Optional 250 QuarkXPress licenses
— Bronze App Studio support
The ongoing price of this package is $4,995 per year. However, for a limited time App Studio is offering the package for a special launch price of $2,497.50 – a 50 percent discount. For more details about the plan, please visit: http://www.AppStudio.net/edu.
Why Adopt Digital Publishing Now?
Design, marketing, and communication students everywhere are looking for schools that will help them learn cutting-edge skills. Digital publishing – the ability to create content for digital devices like the iPad – is a skill already in high-demand by corporations, agencies, and media. With App Studio, educators can easily teach students to create content for digital devices.
The benefit is two-fold. With App Studio students can learn digital publishing and enter the workforce with advanced skills while campus marketing departments can use App Studio to create digital collateral that extends the school’s reach. Using the desktop design tools already in use at most universities, marketing departments can create interactive apps without the expense tied to custom development efforts and alternative solutions.
To learn more about App Studio, please visit: http://www.AppStudio.net.
About App Studio
App Studio (http://www.AppStudio.net) is the next generation digital publishing solution that uses HTML5 to push the bounds of user experience without the high cost and effort associated with custom app development. App Studio is the only digital publishing solution that allows users to create branded content apps using QuarkXPress, InDesign, HTML5, and XML. Through a managed cloud environment, designers, authors, and extended teams are able to collaborate to create rich, interactive content that can be delivered across multiple platforms and devices.
Adobe has been on a mission over the last year to better understand where digital publishing is headed. As well as working with publishers using its Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) to push out tablet editions, Adobe has been meeting with these partners to get a feel of the state of tablet publishing.
Now, 12 months later, Adobe has compiled the results of its research that should be of particular interest to magazine publishers, advertising agencies and media ad buyers.
“The momentum we’re seeing in digital publishing is that publishers are actually able to make money off these magazines. They are coming to realize that these [editions] have business value,” Lynly Schambers-Lenox, Adobe’s group product marketing manager for digital publishing, told TabTimes.
Adobe has also benefitted from publishers’ appetite for digital content on mobile devices – Schambers-Lenox says that the Digital Publishing Suite has gone from publishing 170,000 digital issues a week in May 2011 to 1.8 million by the end of February. The Adobe exec added that magazine downloads (for editions using DPS) now stands at 75 million.
“It shows more and more that people are coming into the digital franchises of these publications, and consuming magazines and newspapers on smartphones and tablets,” she said.
Tablet readers will pay for content
Adobe’s study further details that readers are increasingly prepared to spend money on these tablet magazines.
When looking at the consumer’s willingness to pay for digital content, Adobe found that this stood at 65% of consumers in February last year before rising to an “all-time high” of 80% figure a year later.
“It is also interesting to compare subscriptions against single issues,” said Schambers-Lenox. “A year ago, that ratio was at 2:1 but now it closer to 3:1. People are definitely seeing value in digital magazines and want to have a long-term relationship with publishers.”
Adobe’s research found that total digital readership has grown an average of 30% across all publishers in the last year, with some publishers seeing that figure rise as high as 150%.
“We think that tablets are driving this growth. The iPad mini came in the fall and that’s definitely driving a huge number of readers, but there’s also a bit of movement around Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7.”
PDF rendering is a thing of the past
Some publishers are having more success with tablet publishing than others; case in point, the BBC’s car magazine Top Gear.
Just three months ago, the magazine was reliant on using PDF replicas for its tablet magazine, something Hearst and others have previously admitted to using, but it has since moved to using Adobe’s DPS.
The results have been staggering. Adobe says that total tablet magazine downloads have since risen 48% with paid-downloads and single-issue sales up by 62% and 79%, respectively. Ad revenue has also increased by an impressive 200%, while the reader time-per issue has quadrupled from 10-12 minutes to 40 minutes.
Top Gear’s success is the latest evidence to show the popularity of PDF rendering is fading, just as TabTimes forecast almost a year ago.
Asked if publishers were coming to realize that PDF replicas were limited, Schambers-Lenox as good as agreed, saying that the format worked well…three years ago.
“Three years ago it was a smart move. The risk was really low and you could take a PDF and transform it into a pseudo digital format. But now publishers realize they have to do more,” she said, adding that publishers are increasingly looking at offering digital bundles and tablet-first strategies.
Not that Adobe intends to stand still with DPS. The company says that publishers can now publish personalized push notifications to their readers (Men’s Health uses this feature to detail when the next issue is available) and adds that other new features include digital blow-in (the ability to offer subs within an issue) and greater support for social networks.
But perhaps the biggest improvement is the new ‘First Issue Free’ feature, which allows first-time users to download a free copy of an edition when inside the publisher’s container app.
TabTimes asked if reader frustrations with these container apps, which essentially only allow access to subscribers or one-off buyers, drove Adobe and publishers to make the change.
“I think that’s an accurate representation of the user experience in the past,” said digital publishing evangelist Colin Fleming. “It was not user friendly.”
Adobe says that it will go on to support Android smartphones and Windows 8 devices in the second half of the year (it already supports iPad and Android tablets), and sees smartphones as an “add-on” to tablet reading.
“We’re starting to see more publishers publish on smartphones,” said Schambers-Lenox. “National Geographic sees 75% of its readers on ‘lean back’ tablets, but also sees 20% of content being consumed on smartphones. The takeaway here is that the smartphone will contribute to readership.”
Good news for advertisers
Adobe’s report also shed a positive light on the future of tablet advertising, noting that readers are increasingly attracted to interactive ads.
Studying how readers responded to 10 different ads, Adobe research showed readers are increasingly shunning the static ads of yesterday.
“Advertisers are starting to step up and now blend and match the capabilities of the publication [with their ads]”, said Fleming. “For example, there’s a Jaguar ad on my iPad where I can swipe to revolve balance or bring the car to the forefront. This kind of interactivity is fun.”
Other brands, like John Varvatos, are experimenting with interactive ads that show videos. Adobe execs says they expect tablet ads to catch-up with other platforms, but admit that this will take time.
“TV ads have the best pull, but tablet ads only represent 2% of all ads so this is early days,” said Schambers-Lenox. “We’ll see the percentages shift around. Interactive ads are great, but there are not a lot of them out there at the moment.”
The following features are available for the v26 release:
Free Article Preview (iPad only): you can allow customers to preview content in a retail folio. Users can tap the Preview button to download and read all free articles. When a user navigates to other articles in the app, a paywall prompts them to purchase the folio. To enable Free Article Preview in a retail folio, select the “Enable Article Preview” setting in the Account Administration Tool, and use the Folio Producer Editor to mark specific articles as Free. (Free Article Preview is iPad-only and currently does not work with folios that have Sections.)
PDF article support in both Android Viewer and Desktop Viewer: PDF articles are now supported on Android devices and in the Desktop Viewer. On Android viewers, you can take advantage of the PDF format to reduce file size, reuse iOS folios that have PDF articles, and use pinch & zoom on article pages. In the Desktop Viewer, you can now preview folios that have PDF articles, which is especially useful to preflight your folio for errors. The app version needs to be v26 or later to display PDF articles, but the folio with PDF articles can be any version. For a video demo, see the PDF Content on Android video. (Note that this is a change to the existing AIR-based Android viewer, not to the native Android viewer that is currently in development. In addition, PDF support on Android does not include displaying PDF files in the in-app browser.)
iPad library improvements: Icons now appear beneath each cover preview image in the library so that users can see which content is free or retail without an extra tap. Tapping a button with a price initiates a purchase. Tapping the free button or the cloud button initiates a download. A cloud icon appears if a user is entitled to a retail folio that hasn’t been downloaded. Tapping the cover preview image itself still displays a preview pane with additional information. If a custom library is configured to display only entitled folios, the preview pane does not appear when tapping the cover image. (Enterprise only) If your custom library displays only folios to which your customers are entitled, no preview pane appears. Tapping a cover image begins to download the folio.
Full iPhone 5 support: You can now create 1136×640 folio renditions to avoid letterboxing content on the iPhone 5. In DPS App Builder, you must specify an additional 640×1136 launch image (splash screen) to comply with Apple requirements for iPhone 5 apps.
DPS App Builder includes the following changes:
- Asset links are now stored on the server, allowing you to use different computers to build the app without having to relink to copied assets. For example, an agency can go through DPS App Builder to specify most of the settings and files, and the client can then complete the app by specifying the certificates. When you edit an existing viewer, an “Asset stored on the server” message appears in the text field. Storing assets works only for an individual app; you cannot store assets on the server for use across multiple apps.
- (Enterprise) When you create a custom store that takes advantage of new API features, creating a custom library is no longer required.
- (Enterprise) If you want to continue using an older store that you’ve created, you can select Use Legacy Store APIs in DPS App Builder. However, if you select this option, you cannot specify a custom library.
- The “Enable hot zone to display folio view controls” option now includes a hot zone at both the top and bottom of screen, not just the bottom.
Web Viewer now includes the following improvements:
- Embedded Web Viewer. You can now embed shared Web Viewer articles in your Web site with new support for iframe HTML tags in DPS. Include surrounding design elements that convey a consistent, branded experience for your customers. For a video demo, see the Embed Publications within Web Sites video. For an article with detailed instructions, see Embedded Web Viewer.
- Web Viewer-only folio. You can create a special folio rendition for the Web Viewer that appears only in the Web Viewer browser, not on the device viewer. For example, you can create a 1024×580 folio that displays only a horizontal orientation, uses terminology such as “click” instead of “tap,” and replaces an unsupported panorama with a static image. See Creating a Web Viewer rendition.
- Custom stores and custom Libraries are now supported in Web Viewer. Integrate a Custom Store and Custom Library within the Web Viewer to feature special content, offers, or promotions. Check the DPS Developer Center for information.
- Web Viewer analytics. Analytics data is now enabled for the Web Viewer.
- Horizontal Swipe Only support (added in v25). The Web Viewer now displays “flattened” articles that have Horizontal Swipe Only selected.
New and enhanced Fulfillment Reports: The Fulfillment Report on the DPS Dashboard gives publishers easy-to-understand details related to the downloads of their folio content. The Fulfillment Report now includes additional data fields to make it easier to build informative pivot tables that show how many downloads for each publication, per issue, with a total for all downloads and a breakout showing web viewer downloads separately. A new Consolidated Fulfillment Report (currently called “Rollup Report”) gives administrators the fulfillment data for all publications associated with their account. Finally, all report data is now recorded daily instead of weekly.
Online purchase of fulfillment bundles: A new online purchase option for 10,000 Fulfillment Bundles makes it easy for publishers to ensure their account is always in good standing. Fulfillment renewals placed through a reseller or directly from Adobe can sometimes take a few days to process. To provide a faster purchase option, publishers can now buy a serial number for a 10,000 fulfillment bundle through the Adobe Store and redeem that serial number through the DPS Dashboard.
- Complete articles read. You can track how many readers completely read articles in a single visit.
- TOC tracking. You can track taps on the TOC button and also identify which articles are discovered through the TOC.
- Readers that are directly entitled by publishers. You can get data about readers who sign in to the app and obtain folios through direct entitlement. You can optionally return the reader’s subscriber ID and subscriber type through the direct entitlement API. The subscriber type and subscriber ID values are passed to SiteCatalyst so that you can track how these subscribers engage with the folio.
- Free Article Preview. When customers tap the “Preview” button to preview the issue, the number of preview button taps and the free articles that get previewed are tracked. The number of conversions after the issue is previewed is also tracked.
- Omniture Visitor ID and Push notification token. For each reader, an Omniture visitor ID and push notification token (if the reader has opted in to receiving push notifications) is added to SiteCatalyst.
- Web Viewer: Web Viewer information is tracked.
First Folio Free API improvement: Enterprise publishers can now use the custom library API to configure the subscription banner to display messaging depending on whether the reader is a subscriber and can appropriately provide messaging that supports the latest free retail issue feature.
When the IDC forecast past month that Google’s Android operating system would soon surpass Apple’s iOS in tablet market share, publishers of digital magazines could be excused for some handwringing.
Since 2010, Apple’s dominance of the market allowed publishers to reach the majority of the tablet audience by targeting just one device: the iPad. But times have changed.
Thirty-one percent of American adults now own tablets, according to Pew. Much of the growth in the market is being driven by device proliferation, and many of these devices run Android.
- A Google employee browses magazine issues on The Nexus 10 tablet at a Google announcement in San Francisco last fall. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The relative affordability and portability of new down-sized tablets like the Nexus 7 offer more entry points for tablet consumers, but they present headaches for digital magazine publishers: How do they best reach readers on dozens of different devices with wildly varying screen sizes and processing power?
Why most of you start with iPads
So far, Symbolia, a comics journalism anthology launched late last year by Erin Polgreen and Joyce Rice, has avoided those questions by publishing its first two interactive issues for iPad only.
With just three tablet devices to worry about — standard display iPad, retina display iPad and iPad Mini, all with the same aspect ratio — iOS presented the quickest, cleanest way to reach a large chunk of the tablet audience at launch.
Another point in Apple’s favor: iOS devices are some of the more powerful tablets on the market, ensuring that Symbolia, loaded with pop-ups and HTML animations, would perform cleanly. But as Polgreen and Rice explore expanding to Android, performance and screen size are primary concerns.
“Some of the Androids are very powerful, but some of them aren’t, and I don’t think you get to make a lot of choices in the Android marketplace about who can see your content and who can’t,” said Rice, the creative director. “So it’s definitely a balancing act. I want it to look awesome for everyone, but it’s really determined by the window you’re looking at it through.
That’s a balancing act that Polgreen, the editor and publisher, said Symbolia has no choice but to face. The top request from readers of Symbolia, which also publishes a non-interactive PDF version for those without iPads, is for an Android edition.
“Androids are the primary global operating system,” Polgreen said. “iPads are great. They have a very strong market share, but we’re a global publication. We leave Android out at our own peril.”
Having an Android presence can mean many different things, some of which could be perilous themselves.
Adobe DPS saves production time
The New Republic, which introduced a cross-platform redesign in January, publishes an elegant interactive iPad version of the magazine, with a tappable table of contents, animated section headers and interactive features.
But the version in Google Play’s magazine store is merely a PDF replica of the print magazine. (It also costs a dollar more per issue, but that’s another story.) On a 7-inch Nexus 7, I found it tough to read unless I switched to Google’s magazine text mode. Doing so, however, removes the pleasures of experiencing a magazine layout.
Why the inferior Android product? “It comes down to the simple basic principle of manpower,” TNR’s creative director Dirk Barnett said, adding that his staff of three designers are working on an iPhone version next. “I think we’re just going to sort of pick it off one device at a time once we have it integrated into our workflow process.”
Barnett’s design team uses Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite to develop and publish the TNR app for iPad. InDesign CS6 introduced liquid layout and alternate layout, tools that drastically reduce the manpower it takes to design for various screen resolutions and orientations.
But until that additional time investment is eliminated altogether, newsrooms will face tough choices about which platforms are worth the sweat and tears required of making tedious adjustments.
PDF replicas predominant on Android
TNR is far from alone in its decision to forgo interactivity on Android devices. Even Popular Science, which has seen 1.6 million unique downloads in Apple’s App Store and was hailed as “king of the hill” on stage by Steve Jobs, still only publishes a PDF replica in the Google Play store.
The Mag+ ecosystem, developed for Popular Science in 2010 and spun out as a separate company in early 2011, initially only supported iPad. It added Android compatibility in June 2011, with two options for publishers wanting to expand:
1) Manually rejigger each page’s iPad layout to fit various Android screen sizes (similar to Adobe’s alternate layout solution, but without the benefit of working within a single document); or
2) Allow Mag+ to scale and letterbox existing layouts automatically for Android devices.
(Full disclosure: I work as a tablet app designer at the Chicago Sun-Times, where we use Mag+ to publish a free Sunday sports magazine for iPad and iPhone. Our other sports apps are designed primarily for iPad with letterboxed Android versions available in the Google Play store.)
Mag+ recently reached a 1,000-app milestone, but just 20 percent of those apps are offered in the Google Play marketplace, Mike Haney, chief product officer, told Poynter. Most of Adobe’s North American clients are primarily focused on iOS, too, said Lynly Schambers-Lenox, group product marketing manager of digital publishing for Adobe.
One reason: workflow restraints like those at TNR. “If the platforms like ours are doing our job well, we make that easy for you to do,” Haney said. And for the most part, manually adjusting a page with either system is easy: Adobe has liquid layout, and Mag+ allows for exporting pages to other InDesign templates that then require mostly minimal adjustments. But these minor adjustments multiplied over dozens of page layouts can become majorly prohibitive.
Another potential reason for publishers’ hesitation to switch from PDFs to native apps on Android: the Google Play magazine store operates differently from Apple’s Newsstand. Whereas Newsstand serves as a hub for apps with the full, optimized functionality of any other app on iPads, Google’s magazine store acts as more of an app itself, facilitating the reading of PDFs.
That can be confusing, as magazine apps exist in the Play store outside the PDF-filled magazine store. At the same time, Haney said, differing expectations of what magazines can do in the Apple App Store versus the Google Play store can provide publishers some leeway when it comes to getting their feet wet with Android by going with PDF replicas. In other words, the competition isn’t as fierce on Android.
Plus, Haney said, the fact that the Google Play and Amazon Kindle stores haven’t developed a way to migrate readers of the PDF magazines to newly developed interactive apps could dissuade publishers who don’t want to lose the audience they’ve built.
Kindle Fire apps still lag far behind Google and Apple in sales, and some reports indicate Android users are less willing to pay for apps than iOS users. If Android users are indeed less likely to buy magazines, that could also be behind publishers’ unwillingness to invest much in them. And that’s a cycle that might not be broken until publishing tools reach a “design once, publish everywhere” solution—something Adobe’s pressing for, Schambers-Lenox said.
Game Informer and The Next Web: two extremes
Haney cited Game Informer as a magazine finding success in both major marketplaces, but even Game Informer’s tablet strategy has some wrinkles.
It publishes a massive iPad edition with Mag+, chock-full of screenshots and embedded video (the October 2012 issue I downloaded had 180 pages and more than 700 megabytes worth of content). The design team, led by creative director Jeff Akervik, also produces an edition for 10-inch Android devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Note.
For the 7- and 12-inch tablets, though, Game Informer sends its native InDesign files used for print to a team at Google to produce an interactive version with far fewer bells and whistles. “I’m not a real big fan of how vastly different they are from a creative standpoint, but it gets us in the space,” Akervic said of these editions in an email.
It’s definitely a step up from PDF replicas, and workflow restraints mean the Google outsourcing is the only way an interactive version on smaller tablets can exist. “Otherwise, there’d be no way we could physically do that many different designs,” Akervic said. “It’s a tough haul as it is.”
Others publishers, meanwhile, have determined the haul is too tough to include Android at all. The Next Web announced in December that it would stop publishing TNW Magazine for Android. The nature of its content meant it was too cumbersome to adjust layouts and links, founder Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten wrote in a blog post:
“In theory you simply adjust for a different format and platform and do a new export. But then trouble starts. As one developer put it to us: ‘You make a beautiful magazine for the iPad, and then you dumb it down for Android.’” And once they did so, he wrote, iPad downloads outpaced Android 80-to-1.
Still, if your publication is small and without an overwhelming amount of interactive content, designing for Android should be a relatively small investment. Every reader counts, particularly those on a platform that seems poised to continue growing. Haney recommends building for iOS first, particularly if you’re a small publisher, because of the strong infrastructure already in place.
After that, publishing a standard 1280×800 Android layout will get the magazine on most Android tablets. Buy a Nexus 7—it’s only $199—and see how your content looks on a smaller device. If you don’t build it, they won’t come—and maybe Android users willing to pay for well-designed interactive apps are actually out there, ready to play ball.
Happy designing! (And redesigning… and redesigning… and redesigning… )
By launching their own iPad-only travel magazine, TRVL, in September 2010, entrepreneur Michel Elings and photographer and writer Jochem Wijnands garnered glowing reviews and a shout-out from Apple SVP Eddy Cue.
Now the Amsterdam pair want to help other would-be publishers feel the same glow — by giving away dedicated new web-based software they recently wrote themselves to redesign their own publication.
Called PRSS and launched on Thursday, the template-driven production suite lets people drag and drop web objects to design pages, is free for anyone to use and saves on distribution costs by storing magazines on Amazon’s cloud hosts.
TRVL claims to have clocked 700,000 installs, around 450,000 regular readers and has impressed by introducing a model in which individual destination articles, rather than an entire magazine, can be downloaded in its app.
But, still, Elings and Wijnands had an itch. And its name was Woodwing, the 12-year-old company that makes one of the most popular packages for producing iPad magazines.
“I had to learn Adobe InDesign to use Woodwing and it wasn’t really intuitive,” Elings said. “We were happy using it for a while but, in our app, it took seven steps just to tweet an article link — 30 percent of users go away when you build in an extra step.
“Distribution costs for Woodwing, InDesign and all the others are so expensive. People were downloading terabytes of data from our magazines, this wasn’t cheap to us. We also had to pay Apple a 30 percent cut and Adobe takes a 30 percent – you have only 40 percent left!” Elings says he didn’t mind paying Apple 30 percent but had to pay Adobe 30 percent on top of Apple’s commission.
The pair had enough when Woodwing last year agreed to a closer Adobe tie-up in which it became an InDesign reseller. “It was a blessing in disguise,” Elings says. “We thought, ‘Let’s do it ourselves.’ I wanted to make the magazine design software that Apple forgot, where everything just works.”
So, just like Wijnands, who has photographed for the likes of National Geographic for 15 years, and Elings, whose former consulting firm advised Apple among others, had done with their earlier tablet-only magazine incursion itself, they set about trying to reinvent the very software used to make such magazines.
The result is PRSS, the web-based suite the TRVL team now uses to make its own magazine. The benefits are smaller file sizes and cheaper distribution costs, Elings says.
“InDesign made a picture of every page, even when it was just text. Our photos became four times larger. A magazine was nearly 200Mb. In our software, the magazine is now 35Mb. We just cut 80 percent of the file size and the photos are even better.” The reduction means magazines can be downloaded and read quicker.
And, rather than rely on Woodwing and Adobe to host those hefty uploaded titles for distributing to iPad Newsstand customers, PRSS keeps them in low-cost Amazon storage. ”Today, I uninstalled InDesign. We can do everything in the cloud,” Elings says.
Give it away now
TRVL is not the only publisher to write its own tablet magazine production software. U.K. magazine house Future has also created its own suite, Folio, on which it is now building several selected titles — weening itself off the large industrial packages and offering Folio to other publishers as a service.
Although Elings and Wijnands conceived PRSS for themselves, making it widely available is also a strategy they want to follow. The service is now live to interested enquirers, and TRVL hopes to profit from a commission.
“PRSS will be totally free to use,” Elings tells me. “But, if you start distributing a magazine, you will have to pay a small fee to us.
“You don’t have to pay us a license fee, commission or share revenue with us — but you have to pay for distribution costs from Amazon. We want to take a little percentage of the download costs, we are going to make that fair and transparent. We will make a very small amount of money.”
Do it yourself
The proceeds may support TRVL’s independent travel photojournalism efforts, but Elings also appears to hope such actions can help kickstart an independent tablet magazine market.
The prospect is tantalizing. In the 1980s and 90s, desktop publishing (DTP) software and cheap printers helped amateur bedroom designers make their own newsletters, fanzines and posters. The web has unleashed that creativity still further. But, in tablet-specific publishing, production remains the preserve of a few established publishing houses with the resources to rent the kind of software packages Elings has come to detest.
“iPad magazines aren’t taking off yet because the apps are badly designed,” he told me. “They are all going for multiplatform instead of doing individual platforms right.
“We want to help the market. If this works, a lot of new publishers will start up — you can start your own magazine. We want to make an iPad editing app as well, where you can make an iPad magazine on your iPad — that would be cool.”
Such a thing could amplify the democratization of publishing from which TRVL’s Wijnands and Elings have themselves benefitted.
“We met each other by coincidence,” Elings said. “A day after, we started our own magazine. I was one of the few in the Netherlands with an iPad. I said, ‘Why don’t we start a magazine? We can charge less than National Geographic and become very rich. Well, that didn’t quite work out — it was early days.”
TRVL has scored points if not yet riches, gaining 100,000 downloads in its first year — and doubling that figure when Apple introduced in-app download and, later, Newsstand. All articles are free to download — only “coffee-table”-style photo “books” cost $2 — and the title is trying to sell interactive ads like those it runs currently for Canon.