Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Team behind the iPad magazine TRVL gets things ready to roll out PRSS, its own tablet publishing platform

The travel iPad magazine, TRVL, launched originally in September of 2010, has seen a number of updates lately – the reason is that the publishing team behind the app recently moved the digital magazine off the Woodwing/Adobe platform onto a platform it has developed itself.

The transition is not an easy one: TRVL is a unique app where a subscription to the magazine means access to over 80 editions (and counting). A subscription is not so much a way to access monthly magazines as it is a way to access the TRVL ecosystem.


Launched by Dutch co-founders Jochem Wijnands, a documentary photographer, and Michel Elings, who was responsible for the design and technical portions of the digital magazine, TRVL has become instantly popular inside the Appp App Store, and later the Newsstand, and has come to symbolize for many the potential of the tablet platform.

TRVL emphasizes the photographer, not necessarily the travel writer, leaving the photography to speak for itself.

"We try to make the content feel really personal," Michel Elings told Susan Currie Sivek of MediaShift this summer. "We don't crop photos, and we don't put text on photos. We respect the photographer and writer. We want to give people the feeling that a writer and photographer went to Amsterdam, and this is what they've seen."

"What is motivating us is the fact that these are historic times, and we can make a difference," Jochem Wijnands told me recently.

For the TRVL team, the launch of the iPad in 2010 opened up some unique opportunities.

"Our first emotion was 'wow, we can start our own magazine' – which used to be so difficult, and now it's easy," Wijnands said. "It was still quite a lot of money involved, but nothing compared to what you would normally need, and you could reach a readership all over the world."
Jochem Wijnands

TRVL's approach has been different from the start. Rather than creating a magazine based on print, where the design owes its inspiration from print travel magazines such as National Geographic or a Condé Nast title, and where each issue tries to give readers a broad range of topics, each weekly issue of TRVL concentrates on one destination, as seen through the eyes of the photographers whose work is featured in the issue.

"It's new magazines like ours that show that it is going to be a new game," Wijnands said of TRVL.

Publishing weekly also has tremendous advantages based on the way Apple's App Store works. "I don't think a monthly magazine works because you never use the algorithms of the App Store. When you publish new content, the App Store ranks you higher the next day, so when you publish, you are in a good position for the weekend. When you only do this once a month, you never use your advantage," Elings told MediaShift.

Creating the first iPad magazine app with Woodwing must have seemed like a natural choice – Woodwing is based in Zaandam, just outside Amsterdam.
But since TRVL first launched, Woodwing has changed its mission, now becoming a reseller of the Adobe platform and concentrating on enterprise solutions. The platform probably was never a good fit, in any case. "We are really into less is more," Elings said this summer. "I turned off 90 percent of what you can do with WoodWing because I don't think it helps the user."

So after almost two years of publishing, and over 700,000 app downloads, TRVL's co-founders felt they needed something else.

"So then we starting developing our own software out of frustration with what was available," Wijnands told me. "If there was an acceptable software around about a year ago we would have seriously considered it."


One month ago the publishers of TRVL let out word that they would be entering the digital publishing platform business themselves, offering its own publishing solution. Things are proceeding slowly, mainly because the TRVL team is still working out the kinks on their own iPad magazine app.

Changing platforms for tablet magazines is not necessarily an easy thing to do – especially if you want to continue to offer the past issues to your loyal readers. Some major publishers have resorted to launching separate apps for their archives when moving over to a new system. Hearst, for instance, has launched a stand-along app to house the Esquire digital magazines for its tablet editions launched from October 2010 to October 2012. Meanwhile, its updated Newsstand will house the new issues.

For TRVL, though, where all the issues are housed in one app and are part of the basic design of the app, it was necessary to redo all the issues using the new platform (at the time 80 issues).

So an update was posted on November 1 using the publisher's own platform.

"We could only test our app the minute we've actually gone live. We designed 80 magazines in the four days before we've gone live," Elings said.
Michel Elings
"It was the first time we could see whether it was working the way we wanted it to. Then we saw some glitches, so we did another update, almost immediately," Wijnands also said. "Now we're preparing another update which should solve, say, 95% of what we're not happy with."

As the team fine tunes its own app for TRVL it must now deal with the flood of inquiries it received once it let word out that it would offer PRSS to publishers. Soon the TRVL team will be making the rounds showing off PRSS and getting feedback from those firms and individuals interested.

"It's a philosophy that we are applying to iPad publishing," Wijnands said of PRSS. "We've been thinking about this for two years and we've got the experience in publishing ourselves, so we know what we're talking about."

I asked Wijnands and Elings if the new platform is flexible enough to handle different kinds of publications, or would it be a one-trick pony, giving the publisher only a clone of TRVL?

"It's built to be flexible, it's built for the future, and it's built for iPad – It's built for Apple," Wijnands assured me. "And if you want to even take it a step further, I'd say it is built for the best user experience on whatever tablet or device you're going to publish."

"So the whole idea behind it is to create something that is perfect for the device you are publishing on."

For now the thought is that the team will launch PRSS in beta as a simplified version.
"What we mean by that is that all the stuff that can be down in TRVL can be done in that version," Elings explained.

Then, after getting more input, and more requirements, added features and capabilities would be added.

For now, the thing to know about PRSS is that it is native to iOS. As a result, file sizes are smaller, and the things you would expect from any tablet edition – retina display support, interactivity, pinch-to-zoom, social sharing, analytics – are all present.

Coming soon will be translation services, regional targeting, e-commerce and other features.

(Despite strong hints that I'd be interested in testing the system myself, I think it is safe to say that the folks behind PRSS are more interested in talking to publishers with needs for a digital publishing solution right now. If interested, you should contact the team behind PRSS as they will no doubt be meeting and talking with prospective users very soon.)

The next thing to watch out for will be that next TRVL app update, that should fine tune the app and signal that they are nearing the point when they can unveil their platform publicly.

In the meantime, here again is a look at PRSS via the company's own promotional video: