Friday, January 4, 2013

Forbes Magazine uses MAZ to dress up their replica edition to appear as native as possible

One would not exactly use the term "progressive" when describing either Steve Forbes or the magazine that bears his name. So one shouldn't expect too much from the late-to-game tablet edition released for the conservative magazine.

Forbes Magazine, the new iPad edition, was built using MAZ, the NYC start-up that says it wants to help publishers create native apps but requires a PDF to do it. It is an odd and lazy digital publishing solution that is one step up from a digital flipbook.

To make it appear as native as possible the idea is to add links and multimedia material so that the bells and whistles will mask the replica edition below it. In other words, the production team needs to work hard to produce something that is a replica but doesn't appear that way to the reader. One would think that the alternative approach would be to put all that effort into creating a truly native tablet edition. To each his own, I guess.
The new app offers the latest issue free of charge to let the readers sample the magazine. Single issues are priced at $5.99, while a 1-month subscription is $2.99 and an annual subscription is $29.99.

The preview issue downloads quickly because what you get here is basically a PDF with links. There is plenty of video content to be found in this preview issue, but the links take you to a new window powered by YouTube. It isn't a bad solution, mind you – after all, this solution cuts down significantly the amount of time needed to download the issues. Of course an Internet connection would be needed to access the video content, but that is a common compromise.

No, the problem with the digital edition of Forbes is the problem with all replicas: readability. This digital magazine was designed to be read in print, at print magazine size, with print magazine sized fonts.
The trouble starts right on page two with the 2-page ad spread that can't be seen in portrait. Turning your iPad to landscape to see the ad properly works until you swipe to the next page and encounter part of the TOC on the left and another ad on the right. One must again turn their iPad in order to have a chance at reading any of it.

MAZ's digital magazine solution offers some cute features like the way links become visible – one taps and holds your finger to screen and the links materialize. But the app also has some annoying bugs, as well. For instance, I could not get past the instruction animation. I tapped and swiped and it would not disappear. Closing out the app completely solved the issue, but in the meantime I was frozen.

I guess I would call Forbes's approach austerity in action: don't spend much money, work hard, make money for the owners, and hope the readers don't revolt. A bit like the way the euro crisis in Greece is being handled, I suppose.
Left: the store page where the latest issue is available for free; Middle: the instructions page which I initially could not escape; Right: the problem with replica editions becomes all too obvious when confronted with a text heavy page. And what are those page folios doing in a digital edition?