Thursday, April 26, 2012

Apple's Newsstand is becoming a wasteland of PDFs

Two years ago, when the first iPad was launched, the tablet publishing platform held such promise. But two years on the carpetbaggers appear to have almost total control of the platform. Sure there are a few decent tablet editions out there. But a look at the App Store, and specifically the Newsstand, will reveal that the vast majority of magazines are simply wasting space.

I suppose this is a great argument for the old newsstand model. Those cursed middle men, in turns out, probably saved the public from lots of inferior products and focused the reader's attention onto quality publishing (OK, maybe that is going too far.)
But let's be honest, two years on, what does one see when they look at the App Store and the newly launched Newsstand?. As of today there are 2,470 titles on the iPad side of the Newsstand, and the a huge number of these titles were not designed to be read on tablets, they are replica editions made with graphic files that offer the reader a very poor reading experience. Those gorgeous ads Apple commissions that show the wonder and "magic" of the iPad are really false advertising, aren't they, if the actual content available falls so short.

MAZ Digital, the company behind MagAppZine, says right on their home page "Upload your PDF" and "Sit back and relax" They aren't beating around the bush, their digital publishing solution is all about replicas. For $99 per month a publisher can have an app created that will display the PDF version of their title; for $299 per month they get the privilege of adding some links and can control their own pricing. If no one downloads their digital edition that appears to be the end of the costs. But if anyone downloads a copy the costs pile up as the company charges 20 to 30 cents a download, depending on the model you choose.

After the publisher sees that their magazine hit the App Store they might notice that they have essentially sold off their magazine as the only company name visible is that of the vendor.

Chapel Hill Magazine, one of titles to hit the Newsstand this morning, is being sold under the MAZ Digital name. The name of the publisher, Shannon Media, is not to be found.
Is it worth it? There is certainly a price to be paid for going the easy route, the biggest one being loss of control. For instance, click on the support page links in the app description: you'll see that the link that reads "MAZ Digital LLC Web Site" goes to the magazine's website, while the link for the magazine goes to MAZ Digital. A minor error, like putting the folios on the bottom of the page in the wrong position, but would you consider that acceptable if you saw that in a new issue fresh from the printer?

Recently I was at a publishing industry event and was sitting down eating a lunch of rubber chicken when the discussion turned to digital publishing. The discussion centered on the perceived difficulties of creating tablet editions – in particular the staffing issues associated with creating new digital editions.

To a man (there were no women at the table) each publisher said they wanted an "easy" solution. Finally I could stand it no more, I asked "so, is your job easy?" I went on to ask why this should all be "easy", is putting out a print magazine every month "easy"? Yet this was the obsession of this group of professionals. Further, I asked, had anyone asked their art directors if they wanted an "easy" solution? If not, why not talk about this with the staff, they might be surprised to learn that someone currently on board would love to get more intimately involved in digital edition creation, may have even read up on the subject.

Then I added, but if that happens, I suppose you'd have to give that person a raise. I swear I saw everyone's head drop.