Friday, March 15, 2013

London-based magazine media association FIPP launches universal app for 'Magazine World'

It is a sad fact that both magazine and newspaper trade associations, as well as their support trade media magazines, have lagged behind in digital media – sometimes embarrassingly so. Here in the U.S., none of the major trade associations or the industry trade magazines have launched native tablet editions, and most that expended the minimum amount of effort to launch a replica have done so by allowing their vendor to sell the resulting app under their name rather than the publisher's.

As a result, there is a real schism opening up in the publishing world: on the one side are those who believe that everything starts with the print title, then to make a digital publication all one needs to is create an app; on the other side are those who believe that each digital platform requires its own design work. A majority of print publishers, and apparently their associations and trade industry media publications, believe that once a print publication is digitized it is a tablet magazine or a mobile magazine, enhancements are not necessary but are nice. The other side sees these publishing efforts as merely the digitization of print, like scanning a story from a magazine, the scan does not become a digital magazine, it is merely a scan.

There is, of course, lots of middle ground.

I know that I am very much in the minority in my view that tablet and mobile publishing should be looked at not as extensions of print, but as unique platforms – just as television is not merely radio with enhancements. A vast majority of new tablet editions released each week, for instance, show that most publishers believe that readers will want their print magazines in digital form exactly as in print, even if that means reducing them down to three and half or four inch screens. No or few alterations or accommodations are necessary because digital devices are merely ways of presenting the same content on a screen (hence, why Flash flipbooks exist).

I know of no digital-only publishers who hold this view that is so dominate in the print world. When I speak to a digital-only publisher it is as if they are in an entirely different industry than the print publisher also launching their magazine into the same digital newsstand.

It is not surprising, therefore, that one would see FIPP launch its own publication Magazine World as a replica edition. The new universal app, also called Magazine World, appears under the vendor's name in the App Store, Stonewash DD&AD Ltd.

The decision to use Stonewash was rather preordained: the previous publishing director of FIPP is now the co-founder of Stonewash, Daniel Sharp – and Sharp is pretty convinced that replica editions will be the way publishers will want to present their magazines on tablets: "We now look forward to working closely with FIPP's editorial team to ensure their magazine app becomes a state-of-the-art example of how to put a magazine on tablet format," Sharp is quoted as saying in the latest issue of Magazine World.
Left: Typical editorial pages, still as seen in print; Middle: an ad for the digital publishing vendor, Stonewash, with a video embedded; Right: news page with the text version of the story shown

The Stonewash app is a very nice, as they go. The digital magazine itself is pretty much unreadable without the required pinch-to-zoom, of course, so to compensate the app gives readers the option to pull up a text version of each story, essentially creating an instant Kindle Edition.

I've spoken to many publishers who believe this is the perfect solution: readers get to see the original layouts that exist in print, but then will probably choose to read the text versions of stories because the fonts will be bigger, or in this case, even adjustable.

But to buy into this vision of digital publishing one really has to believe that the future of digital is actually print. Because without the print product, the whole structure of the app goes away and all that is left is a Kindle Edition.

But after three years I guess I'm getting tired of the fight. There are simply too many vendors out there, with too much money chasing print publishers, to win this war. I now admit that replicas will win the day. Now, if you don't mind, I need to tell some of those tablet-only publishers how wrong they are to be designing specifically for the iPad and other tablets.

Here is the Stonewash video from both their website and the ad found inside the digital edition of Magazine World: