Friday, February 3, 2012

Bonnier's Technology Group launches its fourth tablet edition using the Mag+ platform – American Photo+

Bonnier's Technology Group, which includes Popular Science, Popular Photography, American Photo and Sound + Vision, launched its fourth tablet edition this week with the release of the new iPad app American Photo+. As its name implies, it used the Mag+ platform as its creation tool, as did the previous three apps.
The group, led by Gregg Hano, launched its first iPad for Popular Science on the day of the iPad's launch, in April of 2010. Hano has since been promoted to Senior Vice President of Corporate Sales & the Technology Group.

Like the previous three apps, American Photo+ is free to download and offers readers the opportunity to buy individual issues at $4.99, or a monthly subscription at $1.99, or an annual subscription at $11.99. The biggest complaint about the Bonnier apps, besides the inevitable bugs that sometimes occur, is that print subscribers can not log into their accounts in order to access the issues on their iPad for free – they must pay again.

Not all of the Bonnier apps, there are now 60 of them for the iPad, use the Mag+ system – a system that Bonnier itself created before spinning it out as its own company in April of last year. I asked the Technology Group's Creative Director, Sam Syed, about how the decision is made what digital publishing platform to use when creating its iPad editions.

"It's not like a unitary decision," Syed said, "but ultimately the guy who runs the division will probably going to green light that the rest wants to do." That would be either Gregg Hano or Steve Grune, who is Group Publisher.

For the Technology Group, the choice to use Mag+ is probably a natural as many of the team were part of the group brought in by Bonnier at its development.

"We've all been very close to the development of Mag+ and we're strong supporters of it because we strongly believe this is the best platform for doing this that we have access to right now," Syed told me yesterday.

"Having said that, we are not directly against using other platforms. We're just making decisions based upon a very pragmatic approach to it. So if we were to come across a situation where we really thought something could be done using Adobe we probably would decide to do that."

Syed pointed to two reasons why the choice of Mag+ was chosen: the team creating the magazine apps have become quite good at working with Mag+; and because the platform was developed in-house, it meets the magazine's needs very well.

"We need to be bringing fabulous products to the people who like what we do," Syed said. "At this moment, the way we are doing it is the most effective and it produces stuff that is the best."

"One of the things we realize here is that its hard to do this unless you have multiple brands," Syed told me, referring to building monthly tablet editions.

"Because of the cyclical nature publications you have uptimes and downtimes," Syed said. "It never works so that its flat across all the whole time. What we had would be a designer who was not that busy, and a designer who was really busy. But we couldn't deploy them on to the same projects because they worked for different magazines."

"So we reinvented the art department," Syed told me. "Now we have a unified art department here. Although we have designers nominally listed to various projects, really its a very fluid art department. It's like a design studio at an ad agency or something like that.

Syed says that he has "extraordinarily small team." In addition to himself, there is a department art director, three junior level designers, one experienced art director "who essentially only works on the iPad editions," and a person they call a digital producer.

He thinks they are stretched at this point "because the nature of the content – I believe, very strongly – requires we don't just replicate print magazines and that we go a bit further, and that is an area that requires some level of experimentation," Syed said.
Left: Navigation inside American Photo+; Middle: a typical article that uses scrolling to reach additional pages; Right: an article that lets the reader know they can tap the artwork to see a fullscreen version of the photo.

I asked Syed about the contrast between magazine apps that created native tablet designs and replica editions, where the tablet version is just an exact replica of the print magazine.

"I do think there is some validity to that approach (replica editions), though I don't go down that road," Syed said, being a bit political.

"I think there is this worry that you produce material that is so unfamiliar to your current readers that you kind of bring them with you (by doing a replica edition). I think that maybe that's what's driving a lot of people to use this kind of technology to emulate a previous era technology."

Syed uses the analogy of the development of the movies, where directors would simply set up a camera in front of a stage and shoot a play. Not until directors such as D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein began to shoot and edit their films did the movies start to develop into a new art form.

As for magazines on tablets and where they will go in the future, Syed said "I don't think we have even scratched the surface."