Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Publishers involved in mobile and tablet media find, to their dismay, they are now in the software business

Some publishing executives entered their businesses because they thought it was all about printing money -- they've learned better since then. Others entered it because they actually love the publishing business. My guess is that it is this second group that are embracing mobile media and tablet publishing. The first group is probably just plain annoyed at how complicated the media business is becoming.

It is complicated because the growth of the web meant they now had to become familiar with web publishing, servers, html, content management systems -- yuck. To them this was annoyance. To the group who actually loved publishing, this was a new area to explore, to conquer.

Now along comes mobile media, tablet publishing, apps . . . you can imagine how that first group feels about all this.

Launching an app for the iPhone or iPad (Android, BlackBerry, etc. etc.) means that you are now in the software business. Every time Apple updates its mobile operating system, like it did yesterday, it could potentially cause havoc with your product. This is a new experience for many publishers, and it no doubt is frustrating.

Even a developer like Marco Arment, the developer behind Instapaper, has to struggle with these issues. His latest update has an usual warning on it:
IPAD USERS: PLEASE DO NOT INSTALL THIS UPDATE unless you have installed the new iOS 4.2.1. IT CRASHES ON IPADS RUNNING 3.2. I'm VERY sorry about this.
Imagine the reaction of a small publisher when they discover that users can no longer read their magazine because an OS update has suddenly messed with their app.

Well, it happens, and will continue to happen.

Obviously, one solution will be to use a third party vendor to create and manage your mobile and tablet apps -- most publishers are going in this direction. But whether you handle app development internally or externally, these types of situations will simply have to be dealt with.

When a printer informs you that the book stock you have been using will no longer be available and that you have some choices to make, how do you react? If you are annoyed and shout at your printer you are probably in that first group of publishers. If you start asking questions, requesting samples, and start negotiating, you are probably in that second group of publishers who pride themselves in their ability to talk paper stocks, postal regulations, and now mobile operating systems.