Monday, March 25, 2013

Reader's Mobile launched by Tablazines: searching for the perfect digital publishing solution, and sometimes using what simply works

One of the nearly dozen new tablet editions released today comes from a familiar source: Tablazines, the publisher of the digital magazines Hoodgrown and Maybach. Chris English, who is Tablazines, has been probably this site's most loyal reader going back pretty much to the beginning.

It would not be a stretch to say that this site is almost tailored for a reader such as English – someone with a print background looking for the perfect publishing solution to launch his tablet magazines. Why Adobe, Mag+, Quark or whoever doesn't just fund this guy and make it easy for him to launch his magazines is one of the great mysteries of this business.

English's newest digital magazine came as a bit of a surprise to me as he hadn't mentioned it to me in advance. I suppose he feared I would rip it a new one, or something, or its lack of interactivity.

Reader's Mobile was released through the Magzter digital newsstand and made its way to the Apple Newsstand through that Indian based vendor. Reader's Mobile is neither a replica edition, since no print edition exists, nor is it an interactive magazine. In fact, RM is what a lot of citizen publishers have been releasing: something that approximates a print magazine, but is digital.

These types of basically-PDF magazines have been released every week by first time publishers using a variety of digital publishing solutions such as Magcast. Most are pretty awful – not because there is no interactivity, but because they are produced by would-be publishers without any background in print, or the web – or design, in general.

Often these digital magazines are confused with replica editions because of their lack of native app features. But any digital magazine, if it is designed specifically for the device it is to be read on is native. What differentiates English's new title from others is that he can design a page, making sure the fonts are right, the leading is correct, and that there is the appropriate use of white space.

(What would a digital magazine look like it designed by someone more comfortable with the web? Look  no further than Marco Arment's The Magazine, which some techies feel is their idea of the perfect digital magazine, but that print and tablet designers dismiss as too minimal. It, too, is a "native" tablet edition.)

Because the solution used, though, is Magzter, the app still has some issues, despite its good design work. The app universal, so the digital magazine can only be considered native in the its iPad version, in portrait. In portrait, seen in the screenshots below, the page fits, the fonts are right and the result is a readable digital publication. Everything else, iPad in landscape, or any of the iPhone variations, are a replica of the iPad edition as seen in portrait. (Got it?)

The other issue is that appears under the Magzter name, rather than under English's own Tablazine developer account name.

Left: the library page, unique to Magzter; Middle: the TOC is very print magazine like, rather than more native to a digital format; Right: the publisher's column and masthead – again, mimicking print.

What makes a would-be tablet publisher like myself sad is not that the native digital publishing solution providers are not making it easier for us to publish launch our new publishing companies - they are trying to make a go at new businesses themselves, in many cases – but that those that have the most to gain have not launched affordable solutions. I'm talking about Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft here.

As a result, would-be publishers are forced to search far and wide for acceptable ways to get their digital publishing efforts off the ground.

One of the vendors that has created its own digital newsstand and launched hundreds of digital magazines into the Apple Newsstand is Magzter. Their apps are stable, and by launching a digital magazine into their newsstand, now becomes accessible to thousands upon thousands of new readers. The Magzter newsstand is filled with lots of titles, many of them Indiana magazines, and the vast majority of them replicas of the print edition.

For a print publisher, one that has already paid for the production of their print magazine, the decision to include their title in a digital newsstand like Magzter's is about incremental revenue. Magzter, you see, takes half of the revenue generated by a sale. If the sale takes place in the Apple Newsstand, that means that they take half of what is left over after Apple gets its 30 percent. For a print publisher trying to make their quarterly numbers, the incremental pennies earned may help them out. But if you are a digital-only publisher, the idea of sustaining a publishing business where potentially 65 percent of all your revenue is going to the newsstand owners is hardly a winning business model.

That's why digital publishers are constantly looking for the next great digital publishing platform.