Monday, November 5, 2012

Publishers of TRVL develop their own digital publishing platform to control costs and improve their iPad magazine; PRSS soon to be offered free to other publishers

On Friday of last week Robert Andrews wrote a nice post for paidContent on TRVL, the digital travel magazine for the iPad, and the publisher's transition to its own platform, PRSS. My temptation, therefore, is to let it sit right there – TNM readers are quite capable of surfing over to the paidContent site to read the article, right?

But this is probably why I've never written extensively about TRVL. The app, formally called TRVL free Travel Magazine, has gotten great press and Apple has promoted the app both in iTunes and during its Worldwide Developer Conference.

The magazine deserves its accolades if only for its unique design and the way it publishes its issues. The app, which has no print equivalent, can re-imagine the magazine form and therefore is not bound by many of the conventions that shackle the efforts of print magazine titles that try and convert their print products to the tablet platform.
But it is its uniqueness that also present issues for other publishers: there is no advertising (though they do have an ad director), the issues are, for the most part, free.

Founded by Michel Elings and Jochem Wijnands, the magazine has the financial freedom to continue that a print publications entering the new digital platform probably doesn't – the ability to publish without a profitable P&L.

As the paidContent piece points out, initially TRVL used Adobe InDesign and the Woodwing system to create its first digital magazines, not surprising since both the publishers and Woodwing are from the Netherlands. But that combination of tools is very expensive and out of the reach of many small to mid-sized publishers, let alone start-ups.

So TRVL's publishers created their own platform, called PRSS. PRSS promises to be free to access and use for other publishers. One can sign up at the new website to be informed when one can download (or access) the new platform. (I signed up on Friday, but have not heard back.)

An inexpensive, or even free, digital publishing solution for the iPad is the holy grail for many publishers. There are enough obstacles to the tablet platform already – Apple's 30 percent take, the lack of support from ad agencies, etc. – add to those the cost of digital publishing solutions and it seems as if everyone involved is more interested in making a quick buck than creating a new platform.

When looking at TRVL one immediately begins to formulate questions about whether PRSS can be a good solution. In TRVL, all the layouts are of a certain type that are repeated from issue to issue. Is there enough flexibility in the platform to create different looks, not only from issue to issue, but within an issue?

TRVL's look is very much like an iBook, especially one created with iBooks Author. In fact, TRVL uses the slogan "Photo book for the price of a coffee." This seems appropriate as one could call each "issue" a new photo travel book rather than a digital magazine.

Also, as you will see in the video below, there are some issues still with the new platform. It took me three or four efforts to screen capture TRVL. Several times the app crashed, several times I ran into pages that would not load.

The result is a video that seems more stuttering than it really is, but more accurate than the promo video the publishers are using to promote PRSS:

As I mentioned above, the TRVL app has gotten great press, and users have given it high marks, as well. But there is one somewhat negative review that questions whether the new platform is "ready for prime time" - I think this is a valid question as I ran into trouble several times – and, in fact, Elings has said that an app update has been submitted.

The problems I encountered may reside with memory allocation, a frequent cause of crashes. TRVL is photo heavy, of course, and is also built to support the new iPad's retina display. Sadly, Apple has always been stingy with giving its devices the necessary memory to support apps that push the envelope.

Here is the publisher's own video of TRVL and the PRSS platform:

The publishers have made the jump from off Woodwing to its own platform, republishing all its past issues using its own platform. This has given them some working time with PRSS.

As a result, the new platform seems to have everything a publisher will need: smaller file sizes, support for retina iPads, progressive downloads for instant reading,. cloud creation, Newsstand support, and analytics.

Jumping from being publishers to supporting a platform, though, is a difficult transition. Platform support is one of the areas that differentiates many vendors. TNM wishes the publishers here the best of luck and I'm eager to teat out PRSS for myself. But I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the TRVL team is overwhelmed by the number of inquiries they have received from interested publishers and prospective publishers eager to try out PRSS for themselves.