Digital Publishing Trends27 October 2011

With Apple’s release of the iPad in April of 2010, mobile computing has rapidly changed the way we consume and design information. In just a year-and-a-half Apple has sold 15 million iPads1 – more than all other tablets combined.2 This year, it is expected to take 83 percent of the tablet computing market share in the United States.3

As a content producer, the new way to stay relevant is to release an iPad-friendly iteration. Several major book publishers, including Penguin Books, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan have committed to publishing books for the iPad.4 and Barnes & Noble, despite being direct competitors with Apple’s iBookstore, have released Kindle and Nook apps for the iPad.5,6 Hearst was the first major magazine publisher to commit to selling subscriptions to multiple magazines (Esquire, Popular Mechanics, and O, The Oprah Magazine) through Apple’s iTunes subscription service launched in February.7 Condé Nast Publications was the next major magazine publisher to offer iPad subscriptions (The New Yorker, Wired, GQ, Vanity Fair, Glamour, Golf Digest, Self, and Allure magazines) and the first to release a detailed glimpse into their sales figures.8 The New Yorker alone now has 100,000 iPad readers, including about 20,000 people who bought subscriptions at $59.99 a year.9

The big publishing houses aren’t the only players with influence to shape the landscape of digital publishing. With Adobe’s release of the Digital Publishing Suite (DPS), the potential for independent publishers to produce digital publications that rival the major publishing houses has become a reality. Well, sort of. Adobe’s pricing structure expressly caters to big-budget publishers. Their “Basic Package” costs $8,949.00 per year. This breaks down into $5,000 for the Platform and $3,000 for distribution.

The Platform includes:

  • The ability to use the DPS toolset in InDesign (CS 5.0/5.5) to publish as applications
  • Hosting in the Adobe cloud server for all .folio files (your packaged iPad publication) before publishing to a market (Apple, Android, or Blackberry)
  • Use of Omniture Analytics
  • 5,000 initial .folio downloads
  • Technical support

The distribution cost covers 10,000 downloads. For independent publishers or small design agencies, fronting that kind of capital with the potential of being strapped with heavy distribution fees if one of the releases generates high-demand is simply not feasible. However, Adobe has taken that plea into account by announcing a “Single Edition” price plan, which costs a flat rate of $395. This allows you to create an unlimited number of .folio files, preview interactive content on desktop, iPad, Android and BlackBerry devices, publish a single, branded application to Apple App Store, and sell a single-.folio application through Apple’s App Store payment system. The Single Edition plan has not started, so right now you can only sign up to be notified when it becomes available. Rather than waiting for Adobe to accommodate smaller budgets, many independent publishers have found alternative means for releasing digital publications for the iPad.

Tim Moore has been leading the way with his one-man operation, Letter to Jane Magazine. Issue 1 was released in May of 2010, Issue 2: Late Autumn in November 2010, and Issue 3: Moral Tales his most recent release. Moore, a Portland-based photographer, taught himself how to develop a native iPad app in order to produce Letter to Jane.10 Since starting a quarterly magazine for the iPad, Moore has gotten a lot of coverage on, a feature on Behance, and a revealing write-up on MagCulture comparing Virgin’s 60-person team that created Project Magazine to Moore’s solo endeavor. Moore has also released an iPhone-version of his latest issue.

Aside Magazine, “the world’s first HTML5-only magazine,” was created by Berlin-based designers Nico Engelhardt and Johannes Ippen. Using Safari’s “Add to Home Screen” button, Aside Magazine is then able to be launched right from your home screen which then loads full screen, with no remnants of being contained within a browser. It’s also able to be viewed both vertically and horizontally. Nico and Johannes’ insightful reasoning behind releasing their magazine without the help of the App Store; “We love the App Store, but in our world, magazines are press content, not software. And we don’t want a big company to decide whether our content is allowed to be published or not. Also, it makes it much easier to publish on other platforms, such as Android Honeycomb.” Aside Magazine is free and, because it’s developed in HTML5, cross-platform. Get some.

My personal favorite, Astronaut Magazine, is the brainchild of Berlin-based Mickael Brock and a group of his friends. In terms of its editorial layout, content, and level of playful interactivity, it’s leaps-and-bounds ahead of nearly all publications (previous company excluded) developed specifically for the iPad. “Astronaut is an independent magazine featuring 80 minutes of video content, including interviews, documentaries and music videos. Astronaut offers a place for independent filmmakers to present their documentaries and other projects achieved in their spare time, often with minimal technical support or outside help. Up-and-coming music acts and photographers are profiled, artists and fashion designers are shown in their studios and people who are creating new disciplines are introduced.”11 Check it out, it’s well worth the $3.99.
Some well-known blogs have also expanded into iPad-app territory. The design-inspiration blog Cool Hunting released v2.0 of their (free) app. Dexigner followed suit shortly after with their iPad app, also free. Architizer released their free app in early May and étapes released an english version of their international design-inspiration blog as well.

Whether publishers choose to distribute their publications on their own or release them into the wilds of the App Store there’s still the obstacle of standing out. With the release of Newsstand via iOS 5, Apple has addressed the shortcomings of having a potpourri-style App Store where games, newspapers, and magazines all live under the same roof. Newsstand is a stand-alone companion to the App Store that allows you to organize your magazine and newspaper subscriptions the same way you do in iBooks (the interface is nearly identical). A “Store” button directs you to a section of the App Store dedicated to iPad publications. The default view displays a “Featured” section which highlights around 30+ magazines and newspapers. Sorting criteria includes “New and Noteworthy” and “What’s Hot”. By clicking on the “Release Date” tab at the top, you gain access to nearly 300+ international publications from newspapers to comic books.

The only gripe I have comes from the restrictive controls on the Release Date carousel. Having to tap through 24 pages of content to get to the end of the archive is more than frustrating. A simple fix would be a feature that would allow more results per page (default is 12), or links to individual pages as a secondary way to navigate.

Many publishers have been waiting patiently for a Newsstand feature to avoid having to compete with a myriad of games and apps in the App Store, but Apple’s revenue sharing program has created growing dismay. “Apple takes 30 percent of the revenue and keeps ownership of the subscriber’s personal information. Some news organizations, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, have opted to enroll iPad subscribers through their own Web-based systems instead. (Apple allows that now, as long as publishers enable users to subscribe within the app as well.)”12 “Reuters reports that eight French newspapers and publications, including Le Figaro, Les Echos, Le Nouvel Observateur and the sports daily L’Equipe, have launched their own digital kiosk to sell issues on the iPad. The group is also negotiating with Apple as a unified front, and has stated that they refuse to sell their products on Newsstand without major concessions. The group has signed with Google to sell subscriptions via Android’s digital kiosk, since Google charges only a 10 percent commission and allows publishers to set their own prices and capture customer data.”13 “Another consortium of major magazine publishers, including Time Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith and News Corp., is preparing to launch its own app marketplace to sell digital editions on their own terms for Android devices. Competing ways to distribute publications for iOS devices may follow.”14

Another attempt to side-step the reliance on Apple’s publishing platform comes from two ex-Apple engineers, Kimon Tsinteris and Mike Matas. They started their own frictionless self-publishing company, Push Pop Press, after they were approached by Al Gore’s production company Melcher Media to create a digital version of Our Choice.

Since the release of Al Gore’s Our Choice iPad app, Push Pop Press has been acquired by Facebook. So, what was originally planned to contend with Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite by allowing publishers, authors and artists to turn their books into interactive iPad or iPhone apps — no programming skills required, is now being integrated into Facebook’s media-rich profile upgrades.15 According to Matas, “Facebook isn’t planning to start publishing digital books, but the ideas and technology behind Push Pop Press will be integrated with Facebook, giving people even richer ways to share their stories. With millions of people publishing to Facebook each day, we think it’s going to be a great home for Push Pop Press.”16

What each of these inventive projects have in common is their upending of the publishing industry. A shift that once seemed improbable is now becoming inevitable; eBooks on Amazon are now out-selling hardcover printed editions, just 33 months after the Kindle launched,17 and with 3+ million eBooks for sale, Google is the latest distributor vying to steal market share from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple.

The disruptive nature of mobile technology has afforded designers an array of tools for redefining the ways we design and consume information. With some basic design and development knowledge and leveraging of social media, publishers of any size now have the potential to reach a global audience on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smart phones alike.

Additional resources:
HybridBooks by Melville House Publishing
Textbook rentals via Amazon and Barnes & Noble
LongShot Magazine
No Layout