Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Some photography magazine publishers eagerly take advantage of the tablet publishing platform, though others continue to take a conservative approach to their apps

Some categories of magazines were made for tablets – or, at least, that is the way I think. When I see a new food magazine hitting the Apple Newsstand I wonder if, finally, this publisher has seen the potential of the tablet platform and created an intelligent mix of cooking videos with editorial content. I can name some decent food magazine tablet editions, but the one's you'd expect to be great are usually a major disappointment.

The photography category is another interesting one as there is a wide range of approaches to tablet editions seen here. Focus Publishing, for example, which I've written about several times, has enthusiastically embraced native tablet publishing and now is launching ancillary products – individual digital magazines for fine art photographers and galleries.

There are several reasons why the tablet platform would be attractive for the photography category. One obvious one is that the retina display of the iPad (or other tablets, to be fair) is able to display photographs at 2048 x 1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch. Print magazine publishers require their photographs to be submitted at 300 or 266 ppi for final printing using line screens of 150 or 133. We don't need to get into all the technicalities here, this isn't a photography website. But the bottom line is that, in theory, a tablet magazine has the potential to display photographs in a better way than print (and that is not even considering print variation caused by the printer, paper, etc.).

But thinking about reproduction quality really misses more important points.

David Spivak, the president and publisher of Focus Publishing, wrote in a recent tablet edition why he launched a native tablet edition for his magazine: "The reason for this was that in digital format, we could allow our reading audience to enjoy a full perspective of a photographer's work without the print costs and page count being a factor. In other words, Prior to Issue #19, the most number of pages a photographer was ever allowed in our Focus Gallery section, was eight."

So rather than picking only a couple of photographs by an artist, the publisher/editor now can create a gallery of photographs that more accurately reflect the artist's work. Adding another photograph to a tablet edition may add a few MB to the file size, but it adds no costs to the end product even if the folio goes up by a few pages.

I think about all those arguments I used to have at one B2B publishing company about book sizes and ad-to-edit ratios. The company executives were so wacko that the last budget I submitted contained an ad-to-edit ratio of close to 80 percent advertising just to get them off my back (even though that would have violated post office rules).

With a tablet edition, adding extra pages may upset the balance of ad-to-edit, but who cares? Readers certainly won't complain about receiving more content.

The potential of the tablet platform hasn't prevented some magazine publishers from simply taking the easy way out and launching a replica edition. Today, for instance, sees the debut of Outdoor Photography Magazine Canada a replica edition of the magazine – and one that is charging $0.99 for the app (though the reader does get one issue free inside).

It's a pretty mindless replica, one that still contains the bar code on the cover. I can never understand why a publisher would submit their magazines completely unaltered via PDF for these tablet editions. It would take two seconds for the art director to take that bar code off the cover file and create a new PDF for appropriate for the tablet edition – but publishers rarely do this, opting for ease of conversion over reader considerations.

Focus Publishing is not the only magazine company enthusiastically creating new apps. The best example probably remains National Geographic Society. Their main tablet edition is usually found at or near the top of any of the international app charts.

But in addition to the two Newsstand apps (the other being National Geographic Traveler Magazine) the publisher has been busy launching other, stand-alone apps, as well.

One app, which recently received an update that added retina display support, is the $4.99 app 50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic. It's the kind of publication publishers would have produced as a single issue book for distribution for newsstands. I think book sellers and distributors liked these because the cover prices were usually higher and they could remain on the shelves until sold out. But with the demise of many newsstand, including Borders (I just don't think there is any way to over state how devastating the demise will be for print publishers), many publishers are searching for alternatives.

The National Geographic app, originally launched in early 2011, has been receiving mixed reader reviews because of the intrusive advertising included in the paid app, but has proved popular, nonetheless.