Monday, January 31, 2011

Dutch publisher Weekbladpers releases seven tablet editions: one app was specifically designed for the iPad, the others using PDF to tablet conversion

The Dutch publishing company Weekbladpers Tijdschriften recently released seven new media apps for the iPad. While its app for the news weekly Vrij Nederland was specifically designed to be read on Apple's tablet, the other six were the result of converting the print magazine's PDFs for use in an iPad app.
"The iPad is the best of two worlds: the qualities of the journal and the possibilities of new media," Karin van Gilst, managing director at Weekbladpers Tijdschriften said online. Through trial and error we will see some tablets for publishers, but most consumers will do. We want to be there early to serve our customers around."

How you feel about each app will no doubt be influenced by a comparison with the natively designed app for Vrij Nederland. The app for the news weekly is free to download, but forces non-subscribers to purchase individual issues.

The natively designed app has easily recognizable feel to it as it is designed using Woodwing publishing tools. Layouts are in both portrait and landscape, and both accomodate their space with ease. Readers swipe to move from story to story, and scroll to read multiple pages within the feature. The app also contains audio and video material.

The other six new apps, though, use a conversion tool from the Dutch software company The Saints called Publishers simply supplies the PDFs and out comes a digital tablet edition that can be distributed using WoodWing´s hosted Content Delivery Service.
PhotobucketIt all seems so simple until on realizes that creating a tablet edition of a product specifically designed for print might not be optimal.

For instance, the magazine Hollands Diep forces readers to buy issues at $7.99 (US iTunes App Store) for a magazine that sometimes looks right, sometimes not. One sees this immediately as you start in on the issue. The issue uses three pages for the TOC -- the first two look good in both portrait and landscape thanks to the fact that the two-page spread design has a natural halfway point. The third page looks right in portrait, but in landscape the reader gets one page of TOC on the left, and an ad on the right. That's OK, I suppose.

But the first feature shows off the problems: specifically designed to be a two-page spread by the art director, the pages look fine in landscape, but make absolutely no sense in portrait. The left hand page is acceptable, I suppose, in portrait, where one sees all the text and one-third of the artwork; but swiping to the next page all one gets is a partial picture.

This really becomes apparent when one looks at the two-page ad in the inside front cover: the ad makes sense and is attractive in landscape, but again makes no sense in portrait.

With PDF conversion navigation, everything is swiping to go from page to page -- while in native design, scrolling and other techniques can be used.

Interestingly, I think this PDF to tablet conversion still has potential. If one designed the publication specifically for the tablet in one's favorite design software, taking into account that each page would have to stand alone, this could work fine. The designer could either design every page in a portrait template, or double their work by designing for landscape, the experience could be good for the reader. But, of course, this defeats the whole purpose of these conversion methods: to easily convert print to tablet. I remain skeptical -- and at the very least, I would think such conversion products would be sold at a steep discount to the newsstand price.

Like many publishers Weekbladpers has produced a video promoting their iPad editions. This one is well done, though I didn't understand a word of it!