Monday, October 22, 2012

The rise of the designer-publisher: mobile and tablets platforms gives production & development staff a leg up

One of the common criticisms of the newspaper and magazine industries that I often heard coming up in the business was that the editorial guys were being shut out. The top offices at many publications were filled with ad guys.

As a result, the typical publisher often has little to no editorial experience, leading to many editors to claim that their bosses did not understand the business. Of course, many publishers used to claim that their editors were good at editing and writing for their publications, but were clueless to the actual dynamics of publishing a profitable publications.

The rise of web publishing, I would argue, shifted the balance towards the content guys. Advertising experience took a back seat when launching a website became easier, and attracting clicks was the name of the game. 'Paid content' has been the mantra of a whole new generation of editors who believe that the reader will support their publications, and see advertising as the old, debunked model.

Scott Hotaling has 13 mags inside
Apple's Newsstand, though reader
reviews are mostly critical.
Again, the contrarian point of view is that the industry has lost the ability to attract and selling advertising, leading to a sharp decline in profitability.

The growth of mobile and tablet platforms, though, is seeing the rise of a new breed of publisher - the designer (or developer) publisher. To launch a tablet magazine, for instance, all a person needs is a grasp of desktop publisher and the willingness to pay for digital publishing solution. For those with development experience, even this isn't needed.

That doesn't mean that content or a revenue model is not needed, just that coming from outside of these two areas is not preventing those who can design or develop from turning into self-publishers.

Here at TNM, the most common publishing questions are coming from editors who are feeling a bit left out. They see lots of new titles appear in Apple's Newsstand, for instance, and want in the game. Many of the new titles, to be kind, are less than engaging.

For every well received new digital magazine appearing, such as developer Marco Arment's The Magazine: For geeks like us, there are other new digital magazines that are seen as shallow, or merely opportunistic. This isn't stopping those titles from launch, however.

But I am cautious about reading too much into all this. While the content guys have been supported by investors and other media companies, the designer-publisher is a new phenomenon. The key to successful publishing, print or digital, is still collaborative work among all three departments – editorial, advertising and production.