Printing giant RR Donnelley has long offered its printing customers electronic publishing solutions to compliment its primary service as printer and distributor, and now the first iPad app has hit iTunes. The app was produced for the B2B optical magazine 20/20, published by
Johnson Jobson Medical Information LLC.
The app for 20/20 (iTunes link) is an extension of the flipbooks also produced by RRD. In fact, there is are no differences that I can see. The iPad app does not allow for multi-touch gestures, relying on double tapping the screen to zoom in.
When you open up the free app you are brought to a page containing past issues -- and there are a large number of them available going back to August of last year. At that point you select the issue you want and then are asked if you want to download the issue, or read it "online". Downloading the issue will allow you to read the issue without an Internet connection. But assuming you have WiFi or have the 3G iPad model, you would want to skip downloading since reading the issue online gives you the same experience and loads immediately.
(Strangely, the very last issue can not be read without logging into a 20/20 account -- the only issue that requires this. It also gives you the opportunity to subscribe. Pressing the subscribe button takes you to the issue flipbook in Safari where you have to pay for the issue -- one cent. Yep, one cent.
This is even more bizarre when you realize that apps that list the developer as seller are generally free and don't charge on the backend either. Those that do, like the Time Inc. apps, list Time as the "seller".)
This app, in the end, is well designed for what it is. I encountered no problems downloading or navigating within issues. In other words, it's solid.
Middle: The only interactive elements here are links. Pressing a live link brings in a window where web content will be seen, eventually.
Right: The ad index -- bland but essential to the standard B2B magazine.
Readers of TNM know that I am not a fan of flipbooks -- finding them a very un-web experience online, and equally un-tablet on the iPad. So why do flipbooks even exist? They exist because publishers who will not invest in the web needed a way to bring their magazine online and there are plenty of vendors ready to cheaply serve this need. I know of no examples of publishers making profits on their flipbooks, though I'm sure someone can point out a rare example out there. As they say, the exception proves the rule.
So why bring flipbooks to the iPad? Well, it is the same easy solution for publishers, especially B2B publishers who still are having trouble with the web and are very late to the mobile media game. They will also be cheap (if provided by your flipbook vendor), compared with bringing in a third party developer or building your own capabilities. (If this were the late nineties, we might see a publisher like Primedia building app development teams since it could be rationalized that the move would add value to the company for the eventual sale.)
My guess is that these kinds of replica editions will be a big hit with trade publishers. But ultimately the same issues that arise with flipbooks on the web will apply with flipbooks on tablets: low readership, sales team disinterest, a lack of editorial involvement.
So far, however, the most successful tablet products produced have involved lots of work by their editorial and advertising teams. Publishing is hard work, eliminating the work generally eliminates the results.
Updated: Edited to correct typo in the first paragraph.