Monday, December 3, 2012

Two new tablet-only magazines, Book Marketing Mag and Symbolia Magazine, take very different approaches to designing for the new digital platform

The trickle of new self-published magazines from citizen publishers is quickly becoming a flood thanks to prospective publishers becoming more familiar with the platform and new vendors introducing solutions.

Taking a simplified approach, Sharon Williams has launched her own B2B tablet magazine called Book Marketing Mag.

The digital magazine can be found inside Apple's Newsstand and uses the increasingly popular MagCast platform. MagCast is a fairly inexpensive self-publishing app solution that requires publishers to become registered Apple developers. This is, of course, a good thing because that cost is low and the result is that the apps launched appear under the name of the publisher rather than the developer.
For small publishers who may not be able to recoup the monthly fees through paid subscriptions or advertising, even a few hundred dollars could prove too much eventually, of course.

Book Marketing, in order to try and offset those costs, charges $3.99 per issue inside the app, or $2.99 per month for a subscription.

The MagCast platform can be used for replica editions, but some self-publishers are using it to create tablet-only magazines. Most I have seen at first blush look like replica editions, but because the designer has used the iPad display specifications rather than a print magazine the fonts end up being properly sized for easy reading in the digital edition.

The drawback of the system, however, is that it is still based on an image file so the pages are static except where some multimedia element is sometimes added. They are, in essence, digital flipbooks, but ones that are designed exclusively for the tablet.

Taking a very different approach is Symbolia Magazine. In the Newsstand the tablet magazine is sold under the Symbolia name. The editor and publisher of the digital magazine is Erin Polgreen, the creative director is Joyce Rice – both Chicago-based.

The digital magazine is quite different from Book Marketing in several ways.

First off, the magazine takes a different approach to thinking about tablet magazines, creating an illustrated news magazine rather than one based on text. In fact, the full name of the new digital magazine is Symbolia: The Tablet Magazine of Illustrated Journalism – a mouthful, but a good description of the end product.

Where the PDF based system creates a very small magazine file, the native app approach of Symbolia Magazine creates a modestly larger file – in this case 270 MB.
Where the B2B magazine duplicates the print look, with the user reading the book in portrait, Symbolia is designed in landscape and feels at home on the iPad.

The publishers here, too, will try to recoup their investment by charging for a paid subscription – $11.99 annually for what is planned to be six issues a year.

But the second way this digital magazine differs is in marketing itself. The publishing team at Symbolia has taken a bit more professional approach to their new digital magazine, making sure there is a functioning website in support of the venture, and offering a way for readers to subscribe to a PDF version of the magazine in order to reach non-iPad owning readers.

Both digital magazines probably achieve the goals set out by their publishers, but since getting readers to find and download the new apps is so difficult the approach taken by the team at Symbolia has increased the chance of success and sustainability.

Publisher's Weekly has a much longer post here on this new app, including where the publishers got the funding ($34,000) to launch the tablet magazine (and also how they plan to pay contributors).

Here is a brief walk-through of Symbolia Magazine: