The big question: what is the best e-publishing solution for magazine publishers, replica editions on digital newsstands, or native app development? Both?
If it were not for a tweet from TNM reader Tablazines (aka Chris English, publisher of Hoodgrown) I would never had known that the digital newsstand service, Zinio, had been down for a week. The one and only magazine that I have subscribed to using the Zinio platform, Sporting News Today, I didn't renew due to disappointment in its vision of digital publishing.
Apparently Zinio began experiencing difficulties on March 2, according to some subscriber comments posted on the service's website blog. The first acknowledgment of the outage was the next day when the company posted its first blog post saying they were on the job attempting to fix the problem.
The next day Zinio was able to more fully explain the issues that caused the outage:
"This week, Zinio suffered an outage at one of our data centers that has made zinio.com and components of our web services in our client apps unavailable. This means you may presently be unable to purchase new content, or access new magazines in your Zinio library...Unfortunately, the company had a bad weekend -- as it worked on the problem the company continued to post on its blog and probably felt that they could solve their issues by Saturday, as promised. Late Saturday: "The maintenance page is being placed back up on Zinio temporarily while we make some final adjustments. Thank you for your patience."
...We are working to return our services to 100% by the morning of Saturday, March 5, 2011, or earlier. "
On Sunday Zinio felt it was almost there, and on Monday there were no further updates. Unfortunately, Zinio's digital newsstand is still not 100 percent functional, if my own iPad app is any indication, but clearly they are just about there.
Strangely, the Zinio outage was not exactly big news, though I'm sure the folks at Zinio probably didn't feel this way, as their site got plenty of messages from users. But all day yesterday I didn't see a single post online about the problem.
For me, of course, Zinio is a flipbook maker, another of those vendors that serve the publishing industry, though one with its own digital newsstand. It serves that part of the market that enjoys reading digital replica editions from their home or work computers, or now using their iPads.
As I mentioned above, I'm not a Zinio customer anymore. The last magazine I have subscribed to through the service was Sporting News Today, the daily digital publication from the venerable ol' Sporting News. The last issue delivered to me was September 30 (or at least the last one I kept), with Stanford's Andrew Luck on its cover.
So why don't I use Zinio's digital newsstand? Because I feel that reading replica editions on my computer or iPad is like listening to the radio on my TV -- right medium, wrong platform. My computer is for getting information, doing work, being creative, not reading long form text. My iPad is a better device for reading magazines -- right platform, right size -- but replica editions are designed first and foremost for print, so replica editions are by definition foreign material, lacking the navigation, convenience and multimedia content usually found on media app specifically designed for tablets.
As I've said even before the first iPad was delivered, tablets are its own platform -- not print, not the web, tablets.
But clearly many Zinio customers feel differently and that is good for Zinio. Further, Zinio is the premiere digital newsstand, I think that is pretty clear. And further still, based on my reviews of some of the recently released apps from Freedom Communications and MediaNews Group, I'm also convinced that apps are not automatically the answer -- these recently released apps are horrendous, brand-destroying messes.
I don't think anybody should be beating up on Zinio over their service disruption -- service outages will occur, they are pretty much unavoidable. Does anyone remember Apple's experiences when it launched MobileMe? I certainly do, I cursed out Apple big time. But loyal users of MobileMe, believe it or not, really like the service and would like to see it expanded. Others who gave up on the service continue to have hard feelings.
Jeanniey Mullen, Zinio's CMO, was all over the company's blog reassuring readers that things would be OK, and for that the company deserves a lot of credit.
If I were the publisher of, say, The Economist, I would definitely make sure my magazine is inside Zinio's digital newsstand. Clearly Andrew Rashbass feels that way because The Economist can be found in Zinio's digital newsstand. Priced a dollar more than issues bought through their own iPad app, and one edition behind, these Zinio replica editions probably outsell issues available through in-app purchases. But will this be the case a year from now? I will be very curious to find out.
Speaking of technical meltdowns, as I was writing this post I noticed that Photobucket, the photo serving service I normally use here, was down. Photobucket has been driving me crazy these past few weeks, changing the way users upload their photos seemingly every week. Why can't they stick to one method?
A week or so it looked like they finally had it figured out. Users could upload up to three photos at one time, and the photos would end up in the right folders -- something that was a problem in the past. Then it is back to the old way of doing it. When Photobucket finally gets back online we'll see if they have changed its user interface once again, just to confuse and anger their customers.