Thursday, April 28, 2011

The goal is creating publisher nirvana: finding the perfect marriage of technology and content

Most of this morning has been spent investigating various new digital publishing solutions, many of which may be written about in the future. But one thought that kept coming into my mind was how much of the really interesting work being done in tablet publishing looks so different from what many digital publishing solution providers are working up and selling to publishers.

The reason for this, I believe, is that we are still so early in the development of these new platforms that we have not matched up the technology with the content. Instead, we are trying to dumb down the technology to serve the content, or dumb down the content to match the technology.
This is why so many app users have complained about, for lack of a better term, high-tech apps that deliver "cool" experiences, but end up being pretty shallow. Conversely, readers also complain inside the App Store of magazines and newspapers that are merely "PDF versions" of the print products.

The best examples of marrying the platform's potential (iOS or Android) can be found in projects that have been created specifically for the form over an extended time – prototypes, if you will.
Our Choice is a good example of this, something that is based on an older book, has been long in development, and has just been released today. Few "conversion" projects – print into digital – have been as successful as the native designed projects unless they undergo a long incubation period like this new iPad book developed by Push Pop Press.

The holds true for magazines Odd Magazine is an exception, not so much because the programming work is better (though it is) but because it was created by someone who had the time to reimagine the print product, and was creative enough (young enough?) to see the existing project in a new way.

(An aside: strange that the word "reimagine" is considered misspelled when typed out, it's a word that I see to be using a lot when discussing New Media publishing projects.)

It is sometimes good to remember that the old platforms, like print magazines, have had similar issues to what we are experiencing with mobile and tablet publishing.

I can not tell you how many times I have sat through a presentation by a representative of R.R. Donnelley watching as the rep presented new publishing product ideas. Bind-in CDs, specially printed covers, amazing cover and text papers, 3D, etc. They wow and excite you, and get you thinking about how you can use the technology to create better issues. Rarely does the representative want to talk about your costs right then and there. Instead, days later, you get a price sheet which shows that no matter how wonderful these are the costs are often far out of reach for your publication, or its advertisers.

Even desktop publishing went through a period like we are seeing today. It almost makes you laugh to think about how far we've come. (Most people in the magazine business today can't remember what it was like when art directors "discovered" the drop shadow, often by seeing it used elsewhere and experimenting themselves until they figured it out.)

The key is that the capabilities of the new platforms need to be incorporated into the day-to-day life of the content creators. Depending on outside vendors will get you going, but it won't create the perfect marriage of technology and content.