Friday, May 17, 2013

Two new food magazines shows that a gulf that remains between major commercial magazine publishers and new, citizen publishers within the Apple Newsstand

Digital publishing was supposed to be the great equalizer – at least that was the hope of citizen and small publishers. While the major magazine publishers had good printing contracts that favored high volume publishers, in digital publishing the playing field would be more level.

But a look inside the Apple Newsstand shows that if you have the money to spend on native digital publishing platforms the end result will be quite different than what is seen with simple, PDF-based platforms.

A look at two food magazines that have released digital editions today show the differences.

Nourish is a new Newsstand edition from Australian publisher Blitz Publications. Nourish is the eighth Newsstand app they have released, all for the iPad only (as opposed to a universal app containing an iPhone edition).

The app description describes the magazine as "not just another food magazine, it is a woman’s holistic guide to good health and wellbeing, through good nutrition, healthy, tasty meals and great recipes."

The app was built using the Oomph platform, Australia's homegrown digital publishing platform that has produced some very good digital magazines such as Coles, and other digital magazines.

Oomph, like most (all?) native digital publishing platforms is not cheap for the citizen publisher, though not extravagant for the commercial one: $749 a month for a Newsstand app ($999 for a stand-alone app). With added costs for hosting a publisher is looking at a $10K investment at a minimum – practically nothing for a title producing $10M in revenue a year or more, but out of the question for someone looking at a vanity title.

The digital edition of Nourish can be read in both portrait and landscape, but it really designed for portrait. In this regard it is a modest conversion from print, but has the advantage of having its fonts chosen for the tablet, and being able to use the navigation standard of scrolling within a story and swiping to move to the next article.

Food plus Chef Magazine is from Kevin Schmidt, and while a native tablet magazine (meaning that it is not a conversion from a print title), it is a different thing altogether. Like many other citizen publishers, Schmidt has chosen to use the MagCast platform – a PDF based system that works like other PDF systems, but seems to be the platform of choice for so many new publishers. The cost to use MagCast is about half that of Oomph, but then again the design potential is at least half as much as well.

Designing a PDF file allows the publisher to design for the tablet's display, but what one ends up with is limited by the screen size, whereas with other platforms one can extend the screen by using scrolling text boxes, pages that scroll down to the next page, or simply oversized pages that require scrolling to see the whole page.

Most PDF solutions allow for some form of embedded content like video, audio, links, and the like, but the options of how these are displayed are limited. So the design success of any PDF solution lies almost completely in the static pages designed – here Food plus Chef is, I would judge, better at page design than many of the other MagCast produced magazines I've looked at.

Schmidt has also done an excellent job of supporting his new digital magazine by building a simple website, a Facebook page, and creating a Twitter account. Many newbie publishers simply launch their digital magazine and wait and hope someone finds it and subscribes. With Apple making it impossible to find new digital magazines inside the U.S. App Store that usually results in disappointment.