Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Open Sky Media launches launches universal app through Texterity/Godengo for Marin Magazine that tries to bridge the gap between replica edition and native design

While there are dozens of digital publishing vendors that are one-trick ponies, selling replica editions and nothing else, other vendors can see that while their main competition today comes from other replica makers, over time their competition really is native digital publishing solutions.

In the newspaper world, probably the best example of this would be NewspaperDirect that produces eEditions for The Boston Globe and others. These replica editions also come with native layouts of the news stories so that a reader, if they choose, can use the replica merely as a navigation tool to move from story to story.

In the magazine world the equivalent would probably be Texterity. Texterity is known in the magazine world first for its online flipbooks, and later for bringing these to the App Store in the form of replica editions. But last March the company was acquired by the Berkeley, Calif. company Godengo. Godengo is VC backed, which meant it had the capital to make the acquisition, while Texterity was a good target for acquisition due to its large number of magazine clients.

The trouble is that moving from a model where the sale is made by presenting the digital publishing solution as inexpensive and easy to implement, to a more native digital platform solution is difficult unless the new solutions are equally easy to implement. The trick is often to merge a replica edition app with one that can take the stories found within the print edition and reformat them automatically into something easier to read on a tablet or mobile phone.

There are two ways to do this: the first, as NewspaperDirect does, it to use the replica edition with added links to present the stories to the reader, who then taps a link and goes to a natively designed version of the story; the other way, which Godengo appears to be using, is to present the magazine in two forms, one replica, one a native table of contents which leads to the stories in native digital layouts.

With Texterity, which offers a whole range of products, the vendor is trying to build on a long term relationship with the publisher, not make off like a bandit as some app makers appear to be trying to do. This is why many of the new Texterity apps, though not all, are found under the name of the publisher – like the new universal app for Marin Magazine.

Left: The replica of the cover does not fit the iPad's display and contains the bar code; Middle: the app is built around an exact replica of the print edition, with text versions of stories to make reading a bit easier; Right: a new TOC in native format makes finding stories a bit easier.

The way this app works is that it is simply a replica of the print edition without even links. The pages, as is often the case, do not fit the iPad's display – in this case, being too short to fill the entire screen. No real effort is used to hide the fact that this is simply a PDF of a print magazine: the page folios for left and right pages are left in place, as is the bar code on the cover.

To compensate, the app contains a "Contents" tab that when tapped brings up a separate part of the app that brings up a new TOC in a native page design. But tapping a story then takes you to the replica print page, but this time there is a button that says "Show Text", this takes you to the article in a native page layout.

In fact, this new native page layout can be accessed directly when navigating through the replica edition. It is an acknowledgement that replicas are hard to read and something must be done to compensate. But then why do a replica at all? Part of the reason is surely that many publishers remain in love with their print magazine, as are some readers. But I think editors and publishers are more locked into the print platform than are readers who simply want to read the content. The other reason is that many vendors have built their businesses on the idea that it is possible to move magazines from print to digital without having to actually learn a new platform. After all, content management systems have been built to do this for online publishing, why not use the CMS to build tablet and mobile magazines?

Readers will have to decide if this works for them. Surely these replica editions that can provide a native tablet or mobile reading experience are a step up from the plain jane replica which solely relies on pinch-to-zoom to help the reader. If a publisher has their own developer account, and closely manages the process in order to protect their brand, there is no reason why this type of solution might not be appropriate. But the trick for the publisher is to keep control and not be sold on the idea of "cheap and easy" – that is a recipe for disaster.