Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Adobe may be in danger losing total control of the digital publishing market as publishers look for less expensive, more versatile solutions to build their tablet publications

In 1994 Adobe purchased PageMaker from Aldus. Many desktop publishing people were very fond of PageMaker, but just a few years later it was obvious that QuarkXPress was going to be the print production platform of choice. Even as far back as 1992, the year Quark was released, our McGraw-Hill office in San Francisco was building pages of our daily newspaper, and later our bi-monthly magazine in Quark.

Adobe needed to do something to stem the tide. So in 1999 it launched its first version of InDesign. At first it seemed like a me-too product. But these were not great days for Apple and InDesign was, from the start, tied to the PC platform (Adobe released its first Mac-native version of InDesign in 2002).

Over at Cahners Business Information, later RBI, the bright executives deemed it important to flee the Apple ecosystem because of the impending end of Apple. It wasn't their only silly decision, but it did reflect the beliefs of many that converting to PCs and off of the Mac OS would be in the best long term interest of the publisher. With the change came the first copies of InDesign.

It is fair to say that over the past decade InDesign has been the dominate print production solution for the magazine, and to a certain degree, the newspaper industry. The move from Quark to InDesign is where I lost my own desktop publishing skill set as I concentrated solely on whipping editors and sales people into shape and pretty left the art directors alone (I was quite the terror to many of my art directors back in the Quark days).

With the rise of mobile and tablets, Adobe has expanded its product offerings by creating the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite, its Single Edition, Creative Cloud, etc. No one can say that the software maker hasn't been at the forefront of the tablet publishing boom.

But Adobe's product line is terribly expensive. It always has been, as had been Quark and other solutions. Customers complain but few could conceive of any alternative.

That hasn't stopped publishers, though. In fact, probably the biggest driver of replica editions, next to the endless number of new vendors pushing them, has been Adobe itself. Through its pricing policies, Adobe has driven many publishers into the hands of flipbook and replica edition makers.

Yesterday I talked to David Spivak, publisher of Focus, the fine art photography magazine. Spivak recounted the publisher's tablet app launches, starting with MagazineCloner, then Zinio and PixelMags. The publisher will continue to be working with replica makers, including Magzter, as it seeks to give their title as much distribution as possible.

But the publisher wants to create native tablet magazines most of all. Focus Publishing has launched two digital sister magazines to Focus, both using native tablet design, and are launching others for photographers and galleries. To do this, Focus is using the Adobe DPS platform. But it is not ideal, Spivak said, as it requires the creation of multiple files for the various distribution vehicles the publisher will be using.

As Spivak told me, "the old saying (is) if you want it done right, do it yourself." And so Spivak is looking for his own solution. He is not alone.

Yesterday Dennis Publishing announced that it had invested in Contentment, a start-up whose product Padify, assists publishers of digital magazines and eBooks build content for multiple platforms and devices.

The tablet edition for Men's Fitness was built using Padify, and the publisher has claimed 36,000 downloads since its launch (not really a high number since many people who download an app never end up subscribing to the publication inside).

"Dennis has a keen understanding of the problems facing magazine publishers in a rapidly changing market. They’ve been through the trenches, they know what works and what doesn’t, and it is a huge endorsement of our approach to be chosen as their technology partner,” Michael Kowalski, Founder and Director of Contentment, said in the investment announcement.

Of course, many of the efforts to find an alternative to working with Adobe's own app solutions involve still working with InDesign. Mag+ and Aquafadas, for instance, are plug-in solutions that utilize InDesign.

But while many of the largest publishers seem locked into Adobe, many others are looking elsewhere. It appears to me that Adobe's lock is on the tablet platform is precarious compared to its near total domination of print. Changing this will be difficult. Just as it was hard, then impossible for Quark to slow down the Adobe juggernaut once it got started, Adobe may find itself in a similar position with digital publishers in the near future.

Another good example of this trend towards finding and launching one's own publishing platform is PRSS, the platform being created by the team behind the tablet magazine TRVL. Their unique tablet-only publication is an app that is a container of individual travel magazines, now up to 94.

I interviewed Jochem Wijnands and Michel Elings about their plans for PRSS at the end of last year and you can read that post here.