Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Vixely and Rebel: Two new tablet editions look at the issue of digital publishing in similar ways as they produce consumer magazines from their own perspectives

During the past two weeks two new tablet magazines apps have launched that have some similarities in approach to digital publishing for tablets, even as they approach their audiences from very different perspectives.

Rebel Magazine for iPad is the iPad edition of a print magazine that, nonetheless, approaches the tablet as its own platform. Vixely is a tablet-only magazine that is not burdened by the print legacy and so can create native tablet design without the albatross of previous layouts.

Both magazines, however, are created by people without backgrounds in publishing (according to the publisher biographies) and are produced to further their publisher's perspective and to speak to their very different audiences.
I suppose I should state right up front that neither magazine speaks to me at all – though this is probably OK as I am way outside the target audiences.

Vixely is, let's be honest, about wealthy, white, single, women who, if the magazine is any guide, have little concern about employment issues, the economy, or politics. Superficiality is the name of the game in a world where "vixen" is an acceptable term for a woman, and men are known as "dudes" and women are expected to "swoon."

Rebel, on the other hand, is deadly serious and tries to take a different approach to the traditional men's magazine. In an interview with Samir Husni, Rebel Media's CEO Rick Cabral stated the purpose of Rebel this way: "Rebel is a very unique publication – certainly a dramatic departure from traditional men’s magazines – which have been more focused on external issues such as fitness, grooming or say, fashion. We are not opposed to that per say, but we thought men today are facing a variety of personal and professional challenges in our modern world, and we tried to create a publication that more accurately reflected that."

Reading Rebel, for me, is like going to a therapist who is positive I have issues but hasn't found them yet, but is determined to force me to sit and talk with him for hours in order to discover what they are. But if Rebel is trying to break out of the traditional model of what a men's magazine is supposed to be about, Vixely is trying to out do all those men's magazines, but for women.

Both Vixely and Rebel are interesting and worthwhile reads, though, for the publishing professional that wants to see how those that approach creating tablet editions visualize the platform – and both succeed.

Vixely, because it does not have the burden of converting a print title, can look at the tablet magazine from a fresh perspective. It chooses to offer its magazine in landscape only. The debut issue available weighs in at 377 MB, and both the app and the content are free.

But Vixely's design is somewhat limited. Each tablet page fits on the screen and is a separate entity. The reader scrolls or swipes to reach the next page or story, but the art direction is amateurish in comparison to Rebel. Fonts change from story to story, the video content is, well, TNM quality (and that's not good).
The emphasis here is on pictures of the staff and inserting the word "sex" into as many stories as possible, shopping being the second area of focus.

Rebel's goal here is completely different. While Vixely is in the Apple Newsstand and offers its issues free of charge, Rebel is there to sell single copies and subscriptions. The March/April issue is being sold for $2.99 and an annual subscription is priced at $15.99. It's not a well thought out pricing strategy as there is no incentive to subscribe based on the current price, though the publisher is free to experiment with the pricing now that the app has launched.

One might think that the tablet edition might be a simple replica of the print edition but the team at Rebel has decided to go native and they accomplish this very well.

The art direction here is of a far higher quality. Unlike Vixely, Rebel has a "cover" to its digital issue and more attractive layouts. The production team understands that the tablet's display is not limiting and so have included scrolling text boxes, layouts that appear to bleed off the display, etc.

One thing that that concerned me, however, was that when the app is opened the reader is told to turn their tablet to see the cover if they are holding their tablet in landscape. This is usually a sign that the issue must be read in portrait. But this is not true, many of the layouts work fine in landscape – but some do not (see below). If one is reading in landscape, however, and one encounters a page that has to be read in portrait one is stuck – you have to turn your tablet in order to move on.

There were other issues, as well: the navigation is sometimes sluggish; and the Table of Content, while far superior in design to that of the TOC in Vixely, had no links in the stories and so is worthless as a navigational tool.

The video content here is of a far higher quality than that seen in Vixely, but despite this the issue only weighed in at 259.4 MB. Both issues, it should be noted, were slow downloads – something readers will notice.

Despite the major differences in editorial and art direction, both tablet editions will work for their readers. Both have no issues with illegible text or pages that do not fit the tablet display properly because they were originally designed for the print page. While there are some editorial and design mistakes here and there, both these digital magazines show that it is possible to look at the tablet platform as distinct from print and succeed.

Here is a rather long look at both tablet editions. There is no voice over so it gets a bit boring, if you ask me. But it will give you a feeling for the layouts and navigation, as well as art direction of both digital magazines. I thought of overlaying music but thought it sounded rather hokey, so you're stuck with the minimalist approach: