Tuesday, October 4, 2011

But what does it all mean? iPhone event is a reminder that in modern publishing the platform itself always changes

This is a point I've made several times in the past, but might be good to repeat again: in modern publishing, in the digital era, the platform always changes.

For many publishers of my generation, change was pretty much always limited to how something gets published, never to the end product itself. One day we use hot type, the next that hot type is set using computers, then desktop publishing is introduced thanks to the PC. But always, always the end product is ink on paper. Sure, sometimes the trim size changes, sometimes more pages appear with color, but essentially technology only effects the tools, not the product.

But that certainly isn't true anymore, is it? Yesterday, when I opened the iPad edition of Food & Wine, a title launched in the '70s, I was not at all surprised to see that the tablet edition opened with a cover animation - it is almost de rigueur today. In other words, the technology that is available is effecting not only how the magazine is being produced, but what the end product looks like as well.

Another example of this is the digital publishing systems being used to create mobile and tablet publications. With native apps, the fonts used during the creation of tablet edition are what you see when you open up the app. But with a replica edition, the meticulously calculated fonts are suddenly shrunk down by the PDF so that the whole page fits the screen.

With the launch of Apple's iOS 5 once again new features, new capabilities will be introduced into the platform. Many are totally irrelevant to the media business. But some may not be, like display mirroring. That is why I could really care less about the introduction of new hardware, a new phone is nice personally, but it really doesn't change the platform. But software changes can sometimes have incredible consequences.

Can you name a single event that has effected publishing in the past three years as important as the announcement that Apple would allow for third party apps on the iPhone? That announcement led to mobile news apps, then to publications designed specifically for tablets. That was a software announcement at the WWDC event (the hardware announcement that day was the iPhone 3G).

(Note: the Engadget live blogger who covered that event in June of 2008 was completely bored by the demo of apps on the iPhone. He was only interested in seeing new hardware. These apps were possible because of the release of what was then called iPhone OS 2. Funny, isn't it to think that we all take it for granted today that a media property, either a print product or a web product, would have their own mobile app. But in 2008, not that long ago, many people missed the significance of the moment.)