Thursday, May 9, 2013

Jim Dalrymple launches a Newsstand magazine app for The Loop, the first app to use the TypeEngine platform

Former MacCentral. MacWorld and self-described accomplished guitar player, Jim Dalrymple has launched a digital magazine into the Apple Newsstand using the TypeEngine platform – the first to do so. The new magazine, The Loop Magazine, under the pretty whacked out developer account name of Jimlrymple@Accesscable.Net Dalrymple.

The app follows Marco Arment's school of digital magazine started with The Magazine: the emphasis is totally on text, not design, on ease of reading, not on graphical elements or multimedia. (I think it is safe to call this a school of publishing, as other examples are coming out using the 29th Street Publishing platform.)

It's clear to see why writers and bloggers would be attracted to this style of Newsstand magazine. But it is equally clear why former print magazine art directors go in the exact opposite direction with their digital magazine launches.

"For many years people have been asking me why I didn’t release an app for the iPhone and iPad. The answer was quite simple: I couldn’t find anything that added value to what I did on The Loop. I wanted something more than a side-scrolling news app that basically imitated what I’d already linked to or written on the Web site," Dalrymple writes in the magazine's introduction.

"It wasn’t until I saw the format that Marco Arment used in The Magazine that I realized what I really wanted for The Loop — a design and reading experience that matched what I had on the Web site. An easy to read magazine that focused on original content, not on selling ads."

And so with that last paragraph one can see why this style of digital magazine doesn't appeal to me – it is hard to see it successfully translate to major magazine titles that drive millions of dollars of paid advertising.

One thing that does appeal to me, however, is how well this app translates to the iPhone. The simplicity of the layouts and the lack of graphics and interactivity seems out of place on the iPad, but on the iPhone it is a breath of fresh air. Just as the British Journal of Photography's original iPhone app, BJPhoto: iPhone Edition (which used the Mag+ platform) simplified its layouts to create its mobile edition, this app feels right at home on a mobile phone.

(That's why I think web writers and bloggers are so attracted to these stripped down approaches to the platform – is looks and feels more like the web than it does a print magazine. You can even see this in The Next Web's own story about this app – compare the way that they place the screenshots versus the way I do it. All their pictures are in line – and larger, which is nice, I might add – while I naturally place my photos, just as one would in a print magazine. Despite the limitations of the Blogger platform I continue to act like TNM is a magazine.)

But having said all that, a comparison of the two apps will still yield major differences. BJPhoto: iPhone Edition still has much of the graphics still in the app. Like a responsive website that can take the graphical elements and replace them into new positions, that Mag+ app still has a relationship with both the tablet edition and the print edition.

The other thing that should be said is that design-wise, this style of magazine publishing is like publishing with both hands tied behind your back. Many of the things that make tablet magazines great – photography, interactivity, multimedia – are stripped away and what is left is just text. That's fine, except the question has to be asked "why build an app, wouldn't a responsive website serve the purpose?" Of course, the answer is "no" because of the one thing that makes all this possible – the Newsstand and its ability to drive paid subscriptions.

In this case, The Loop's subscription price is $1.99 per month, and plans are to publish twice a month. The app comes with a free 7-day trial, as well.

As mentioned above, this is the first app to be released using the TypeEngine platform, which the company says will be more public starting next month.

"When you publish an app using TypeEngine, you maintain full ownership of your content," the company's website states. "Your app will be submitted under your name. You will get payments directly from Apple. You have full data portability – you can export all of your content at any time with the click of a button (not that you’ll ever want to). You also have full control over your app, which includes your subscription pricing, your subscription intervals, and your publishing schedule."

The solution creates what could be called a Kindle Edition app for the Newsstand in that it is built around the text, which is adjustable.

TypeEngine will offer various article templates, but if you are a blogger or writer you will probably be scared off my TypeEngine's template page which, rather than showing WYSWYG themes contains a series of coding lines.

The good thing here, though, is that TypeEngine appears to be about assisting writers create digital magazines rather than trying to build their own ad network or to syphon off a percentage of the new publication's revenue. There is certainly something to be said about that.

I can't help but reflect, however, on the fact that there seems to be at least three schools of Newsstand publishing occurring right now: one that appeals to a publisher's cheapness and fear of complexity – the replica edition; another that appeals to designers and programmers – native tablet platforms like Adobe, Mag+ and others; and one that appeals to writers and bloggers – TypeEngine, 29th Street Publishing and the like.

There is certainly room for all three schools of digital publishing, but I wish one of these would start appealing to the digital ad agencies who remain pretty obsessed with a very narrow range of digital products, all coming from one or two companies.

1 Comment:

Tablazines said...

I must admit that I was a little PISSED when the Type Engine didn't pick me as one of the folks they were offering free publications too.

After seeing their offerings, I agree with them that we would have been a good fit.

Not saying anything bad about the platform, we're just traveling different roads.