Monday, September 13, 2010

Publishers, beware boilerplate tablet publishing solutions, or at least make sure it's one amazing boilerplate!

Judging the work of the third party vendors that are currently selling mobile and tablet publishing solutions to media companies is pretty easy: just look at the publications inside iTunes and read the reveiws and test out the apps. But how many publishers are doing their due diligence?
Only a few app developers are offering their publishers custom solutions. The reason for this is simple: the original investment to come up with a media app can be monetized over many different media clients, while a custom solution involves constant programming.

Publishers appear used to this: after all, publishers negotiate once with their printers, and after what they want is consistent performance and no surprises on their bills.

The assumption, I suppose, is the the developer's job is to build a solution that is much like that of a printer or the digital editions many publishers have on their website -- give me a brain dead way to get my issues online.
Many vendors, however, are offering their publishing clients more than this by providing ways to embed audio and video, accomodate both portrait and landscape page layouts (especially for ads), and ways to make their print magazines (and newspapers) more "native" to the platform.

Then there is the one-size fits all approach. I've screamed about this for months now, and more than a few developers have screamed right back at me, feeling that my criticism was directed their way -- it isn't, it's up to the publishing executive to take the new platforms seriously and avoid the "easy" (and often "cheap") solutions that end up doing their brands more harm than good.

A slew of new universal apps have hit the iTunes store for various magazines, all from a developer I've not heard of until today. (I won't mention the name of the developer because I'm tired of getting the e-mails or comments. But suffice to say that I am no fan of these apps.)
One of the apps, for WoodenBoat magazine is representative -- in fact, they are all the same. The app features no special layouts to accomodate portrait and landscape -- instead shrinking the page to an unreadable size when in landscape. The navigation is clunky in the extreme, with pages turning haltingly when swiped.

The tablet edition of WoodenBoat magazine supposedly comes with text views of pages, but when I attempted to use the feature on the editor's page -- a completely graphics-free page -- it said that the feature does not work in the "preview" edition and that I needed to log-in or subscribe. But what is a "preview edition" if not a way of seeing how the app is supposed to work?

OK, so let's go ahead and subscribe and see what happens. The reader is taken to a page that says they can not read the content because Flash is required! Really, no kidding. Who creates a solution dependent on Flash for the iPad or iPhone?

So you can't use the app as designed because you have to subscribe, but you can't subscribe because the iPad doesn't support Flash. The developer's fault, right? No, someone at the media company thought creating this mess was a good idea and was sold by the developer. Caveat emptor.

This episode reminds me the time I was told that all the flipbooks for my magazines would now start at Page 0 (Zero), instead of One, because the new vendor didn't know how to make the first page equal Page One, and the second page equal Page Two, etc. So 64 page issues now would be 63 online.

"And why are we using this vendor?" I asked. "Too late, the contract's been signed, you'll have to live with it," I was told.

Due diligence, it's a publisher's best friend.


Tablazines said...

I was under the impression that the majority of publishers were using Woodwing's solution. What's the name of the vendor Wooden Boat is utilizing?

Douglas Hebbard said...

What WoodWing does is completely different than what the third party vendors associated with replica editions do. WoodWing provides a software solution that allows publishers to handle much of the work themselves -- I would compare it, in many ways, to a traditional company like Adobe, though in this case WoodWing's solutions work in tandem with Adobe's.

If you are looking to create your own capabilities you would work with WoodWing, but if you want to outsource the whole process you would use a complete solution vendor.

As for the name of the vendor, that is pretty easily discovered, I'd rather leave that for you and other readers. In a way, that was the point of the article: that it is vitally important for publishers to thoroughly check out their mobile/tablet vendors before committing. Publishers should look at, and experience the publishing products being offering -- and ask themselves "do we want our product to look and act like this?"