Friday, March 23, 2012

Introduction of the new iPad will, in fact, cause ripples in the publishing industry – but this time on the vendor side

It's been exactly one week since the FedEx lady stopped by and delivered me a shiny new iPad. "Shiny" because it was nice to see that new display without my grimy finger prints all over it – that lasted all of a couple of hours.

With any new iOS device release, or operating system update, one is always curious what the impact on publishers might be. With the launch of the new iPad the issue that seemed the most important was file size: how would the higher resolution of the iPad effect the file sizes of magazine or newspaper issues? Would this be a problem? or would some publisher stay lo-res, so to speak, and would this make their magazines look terrible on the new tablet?

"File size is always a challenge we're working to overcome," said Shawn Duffy, Managing Director at WoodWing USA. "But we're also pleasantly surprised by how well magazines are accepted on the iPad, even with file size into consideration. So I think the market will react positively to all the cool things that are coming out in the iPad 3."

Likewise Mag+'s Mike Haney was equally (seemingly) unconcerned, saying that Mag+ would work to keep file sizes down and that "we anticipate the payoff will be worth it for consumers."
Adam Hodgkin, co-founder of Exact Editions, writing on the company's blog, said: "This new iPad will be very good for all magazines, but it may have a particularly dynamic effect on the quality end of the market. I am thinking here of those ‘high end’ magazines that have particular prestige in the domains of fashion, design, art, poetry, environment and architecture. There are lots of such magazines."

All these quotes appeared here in my preview post of March 6th.

A little over a week later other websites started to weigh in on the matter including David Sleigh's post at Stuntbox (well worth reading). Some of the other posts bordered on silly (it seems the that the larger the publication, the larger the insanity).

I suppose that file size isn't really the issue, download times and storage capacity are the real issues – at least as far as readers are concerned. But for publishers, the reader experience is the paramount concern.

Mike Haney posted a sort of reply to all this on the Mag+ blog page, but I'm not very satisfied with the piece. While acknowledging the issue, and admitting the production engines that generate pages as images is the source of the file size increases, he tends to dismiss the overall concerns a bit too quickly.

One reason he might be doing this is simply that everyone intimately involved in digital production of tablet editions can see where this really has to go: native text rendering rather than using the current image based approach.

David (Sleight) makes a point in his post that I completely agree with: being able to treat text as text (and not pictures of text) in digital publications would be great. Less for the file size, but for all the other benefits it brings: search, selection, dictionary, etc. Mag+’s first several issues were in fact built that way, using the text renderer on the device. And we abandoned it because frankly the text looked terrible and designers kept asking: “What’s the point of creating layouts in a program that allows pixel-perfect typography if the app is going to destroy it?” and “Why would people pay for something that looks like a web site?” We also then had to embed fonts in the app, which was unsustainable with advertisers each wanting their own. There are solutions to this and it’s one of our biggest development priorities, but I would argue that this is still not the biggest problem content creators have.
Yes, Haney is probably right that file sizes and whether an app uses text rendering is not the biggest problem publishers have right now. But it might turn out that it is one of the biggest problems digital publishing solution providers have right now (that and price, of course).

But I would urge caution right now. The new iPad has been out for one week and launched in many countries only today. There is time to work out these issues.

But I know in which direction Apple wants publishers and vendors to go in – iBooks Author is a definite clue.

One reason these issues are only now coming to the foreground is that for the past two years so many publishers have remained fairly uneducated about tablet publishing. To many, the iPad is simply another "monitor" which readers use to read their publications. This is why the most common question I get is "what's the best way to get my magazine onto the iPad?" as if it were just another distribution channel rather than a whole new digital platform.

While many publishers can tell you the weight and color value of the paper they use to publish their print magazines, few can tell you the difference between Xcode and X-Men.

Yes, the folks in charge of some of the largest magazine chains are certainly knowledgeable, but that hasn't stopped them from making some really bad tablet publishing decisions (I'll refrain from pointing the finger).

But many us know what we want and are still waiting to see whether it can be delivered – or whether Apple will intervene to help us out. But it has not yet been two years into this new platform, and look how impatient we all seem to be. No need to be, though, this all will get worked out, eventually.