Wednesday, February 6, 2013

B2B: Existing digital publishing platforms don't give B2B publishers very attractive choices when launching their first tablet editions

More and more B2B tablet editions and stand-alone apps are appearing in Apple's App Store these days as the era of experimentation continues. Some publishers, such as Cygnus Business Media, have taken leadership roles by launching new apps fairly regularly, while others either outsource their efforts, or continue to opt out – at least for now. One of the biggest issues continues to be choosing a digital publishing platform that will be appropriate for their publications.

One option remains outsourcing the app development. Landscape, the Journal of the Landscape Institute has gone this route.
 photo Landscape-replica-sm_zpsd6e7c09e.jpg
The Landscape Institute is a UK organization for landscape architects and the organization has chosen to bring in CoCreate Design & Marketing, a UK web design and marketing agency to build their first tablet edition for their magazine.

Unfortunately, the results are less than satisfactory. What the app delivers is simply a replica edition that presents the print magazine as a missized tablet edition – the print pages don't really fit the screen of the iPad. But much worse is the fact that the organization's pride and joy, its magazine, is now sold under the developer's name inside Apple's Newsstand. This loss of control goes down to the app description that is limited to one sentence, and to screenshots that don't really show much.

For many trade associations with their own publications, building out digital publishing capabilities really is not an option. If the association is currently doing the production and editorial work in-house, the move to digital is a sign of danger for the staff, knowing that outsourcing the magazine might become an attractive option down the line. For custom publishing firms, however, strong digital publishing skills can prove to be a good way of attracting new business – not only from trade associations, but from brands looking to launch their own first tablet apps. The world of mobile and tablet publishing, therefore, looks a lot like the first days of Internet publishing did in the late nineties, with new players coming in to pick off new customers.
Cygnus Business Media continues to be one of the few B2B publishers actively experimenting with tablet editions. Experimenting, I believe, is the right word, because many of their apps feel like efforts to see what will work, what will attract readers, and what the company can do on its own.

Near the end of the year one of its titles, Feed & Grain, released its first iPad app for its Feed & Grain 2013 Equipment & Service Guide.

The B2B title is a BPA-audited trade magazine with 15,706 readers in its last statement. Published only 7 times per year, this is an interesting title to look at in terms of the new digital platforms. Few industry journals of this size have launched anything inside the App Store.

The new app most like was created using the Adobe DPS Single Edition solution as the app does not support Newsstand and is free of charge for readers. The size of the download, 661 MB, would lead one to think that the resulting digital publication would be one of those giant sized buyers guide some B2B publishers used to produce once a year during the heyday of the industry. It's not, the app is a moderately sized digital product with a single sponsor, Sweet Manufacturing.

I enthusiastically applaud the experiment here, even if the results seem to not hit the mark. To produce so huge a digital file for so little content shows the limitations of the digital publishing solution. Nonetheless, Cygnus now has 16 iPad apps available, which is way more than most B2Bs. But the apps are stuck in a rut - similar looking landscape formatted tablet editions that don't always serve the magazines very well.

It is possible that a move to another platform, such as Mag+ or Aquafadas (or something else) could provide a different perspective. After all, the goal here should be to create a tablet edition that will attract industry readers wanting a digital publication each month. But if the company is committed to the Adobe DPS then there is no doubt that the platform is versatile enough to produce digital magazine different than those created so far. Keeping file sizes down, though, will continue to be a challenge.