Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Google goes into Culture Commerce

The rumour mill has it that Google will launch a Chrome netbook, cloud-based, computer before Christmas or early in the New Year. When you put this rumour alongside the others coming from the Googleplex you get an interesting picture

  1. Is Google going to buy a big package of movie rights? Is that why it has hired the former Netflix executive George Kynci?
  2. Google is possibly quite close to signing a deal with the major music labels for its cloud-based music-streaming service.
  3. For a couple of years, Google has been apparently on the brink of releasing a digital books service in collaboration with book publishers. Most recently Dan Clancy told us that Google Editions will be launching very soon ("très bientôt")
The rumours about the Chrome netbook suggest that its really all about the web, cloud-based productivity and web browsing, but if its launch is accompanied by, or closely followed by, a Google distribution and e-commerce solution for books, films and music, the market place for publishers and entertainment companies may change very fast. Google will be a formidable competitor if it becomes an information publisher and an e-commerce platform for film, music and books. Competitor primarily for Apple and Amazon, Google may well be seen as more of a 'friend', because more collaborative and more open than either Amazon or Apple, by the big incumbent publishers and media groups. Knowing, as we do, the way Google works (quiet launches, 'beta' services, and something of a scatter gun approach) I think its unlikely that Google will launch a fully fledged, cloud-based, Chrome-machine, with a multi-channel, multi-media dashboard in place in the first quarter of next year. It is surely more likely that this hardware platform and this constellation of media services will each emerge in their own good time. But if the plans come off and Google has these publishing partnerships in good order, it is highly likely that Google will be selling a lot of consumer products next Christmas. And I do not meant via Groupon; a commercial solution that can stream all kinds of media stuff from your locker in the cloud to Android and Chrome platforms, will be a dazzling consumer attraction

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Economist's Economical and Effective iPad App

And having played with it a bit, I would say that it is a very nice production. Take a look at it here.

There are four aspects to the Economist app that I particularly like:

  1. It has been delivered as a complementary (ie free) offering to all existing subscribers. Exact Editions has been helping magazine publishers to make this bridge to current print subscribers for a while, but a lot of industry experts seem to think that this is something very difficult to do, or somehow not allowed by Apple's e-commerce system, or just generally impossible. Since the Economist is now doing this with no trouble at all (the sign up was very easy, and you only need to do it once -- as is the case with Exact Editions' universal subscriptions) perhaps we will now no longer read claims that it is not feasible to do this. There will be followers......
  2. The Economist delivers all its six editions through the same app, and the user can select which 'regional edition' she wishes to receive. That is a very good plan, simple and in a sense generous. But a generosity which costs the publisher nothing (once it is decided, as it ought to be decided, that all the editions are deserving of a digital service).
  3. The Economist app delivers the individual stories clearly and well, with re-sizable type, and pictures and diagrams in place. Achieving this smoothly and with consistently good results is not easy and must have involved planning a fair degree of integration between editorial work-flow and the app delivery framework. Well done. I also recommend the Economist for choosing a deployment for the iPad which, I am fairly sure, can be easily adapted to other digital form factors that are surely coming. I doubt that the design and editorial process involved in producing the app in its variant forms is onerous, on an ongoing basis. So the planning and integration will be a good investment.
  4. I especially like that The Economist does not try to do too much, or to introduce multi-media and fancy additional features at this stage. This is an app for the weekly publication, not for the web site. The RSS feeds do not clutter up the app, though they can still be found on the web service, of course. The app will be ignored by some so-called experts for not being more ambitious and daring as a publishing innovation. But they have chosen the correct path: get the basic magazine up and running and then take it from there. It will not be difficult for them to introduce more interactivity into the framework they have built.
What is there not to like? Since I am very much in favour of the Economist's app these hesitations or questions, are not intended to be dismissive of what they have achieved:

  1. The Economist app is what I would call a good 'ebook' style of digital edition. The format and design quality of the original publication is mostly lost. Page numbers, and paginated format has gone. The print ads have gone (if I want to apply to be Director General of the World Water Council I will need to go to the print edition). The internal cross references are also gone, and that matters. Furthermore, the user no longer has a simple equivalence between the print edition and the digital edition. This dissonance imposes a bigger cognitive overhead than is generally accepted.
  2. There is as yet no search and no archive, one guesses that these features will be added. Perhaps they should really be there already.
  3. The navigation possibilities with the app are not as rich as in many other magazine apps. The hierarchical order of the magazine has been preserved and can be rapidly flipped, but I was looking for a 'scrubber bar', to be found in most magazine apps, or a 'page flow' widget such as is found in Exact Editions apps.
  4. The Economist's ebook style solution works well for the Economist (which is a more text heavy 'magazine' than most). But I doubt that the same process will work for a very heavily illustrated and page-beautiful magazine. The Economist calls itself a 'newspaper' and I feel that its app solution is better suited to a serious newspaper than to the majority of magazines, where considered layout and clever illustration is a key element in the pleasure of the reading experience.
  5. Furthermore the Economist does not have the benefit of being a platform solution. The Economist is a big enough and a good enough magazine to contemplate building its own solution, but many advantages will come from working with a raft of similarly designed offerings. For most magazines that is an important consideration.
  6. Although, I applaud the decision not to launch with many multimedia bells and interactive whistles, the digital magazine is very short of linkage. Linkage to the web and linkage to other information resources that matter to readers. The Economist app will be better, much better, when there is more.
The Economist have produced a good solution for their loyal, influential, and large readership. They have also shown the magazine industry that developing a solution for your existing subscribers is an important first step. They have not yet shown how great an iPad magazine could be, but those steps are in the future and they have made a good start. Rival publishers should take note and take stock.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Apple's Next Announcement: Android Compatibility?

It seems as though the Apple announcement about the availability of Beatles music via iTunes was not such an earth-shaker. Fred Wilson's tweet was the best riposte that I have seen so far ("I've had the Beatles on iTunes since I bought all of their CDs and ripped them back in 2001 #muchadoaboutnothing" tweets Fred).

But here is an announcement that really would surprise the digerati: Just suppose, Apple decides to offer the iTunes app store via Android?

I guess most experts would dismiss this out of hand. Is it not the point of iTunes and the app store that it gives users and potential purchasers a compelling reason to purchase Apple hardware not the devices that come from other manufacturers? Surely Steve Jobs would never want to do this? Wouldn't putting iTunes on Android be a way of endorsing the competing Android standard? Surely Google would never allow that?

But before we dismiss the idea, give it some consideration:

  1. The prospect that Google might ban an iOS4 emulation environment for Android would surely, in and of itself, be enough to encourage Apple to produce one. Google would lose its moral high-ground if it pulled such a trick.
  2. Apple would surely sue anyone who built a 'clean room' iOS4 environment for Android, but that doesn't mean that Apple could not choose to do that directly. Apple has a choice as to how to play this issue of 'standards' and 'fragmentation. It would be sweetly ironic if Apple brought the Apple standards of e-commerce and app regulation to the small Apple-blessed part of the Android spectrum, letting the rest of the Android world hang on to the devils and dangers of unregulated experimentation.
  3. Apple may not want to appear to endorse Android at this stage, but as Android approaches a degree of maturity Apple will be more interested in 'managing', 'stabilising' and 'participating' in the evolution of standards and expectations that are being set by the non-Apple universe. Apple could exert considerable influence in this way if there is a large library of iOS-compatible apps running through Android.
  4. Apple is capable of using the 'embrace to extend' strategy beloved of Bill Gates. Remember how many observers (including many music publishers) were surprised when iTunes for Windows appeared in 2003 and the way in which this step re-inforced Apple's position as the primary avenue for digital music sales.
  5. When Apple's music and media goes to the cloud, then there will be little reason for Apple not to offer its music service through the Android eco-system. If the music and the media properties are positioned as cross-platform, why not make the same choice for the apps environment.
  6. Android manufacturers and designers would love to inherit the wealth of apps available for iOS4. There would be a bargain to be struck if Apple were willing to license its environment to particular manufacturers or network operators. Bargains being struck means that Apple gains leverage and position.
  7. Apple will gain additional software revenues through its 30% tariff on any app sales through the Android environment. Concurrently providing a direct Android solution for its committed developers would be a way of keeping the lead that Apple already has in the developer community. It might postpone the time when Apple's developers give equal or greater weight to the Android platform. As the market for apps matures, the percentage of Apple's profits that is coming from e-commerce will increase and the attractiveness of revenues from an Android-compatible market will increase.
  8. It is unlikely that any Android device manufacturer could produce a device that completely matches the specification of the iPhone, still less the iPad, in every particular. Some apps will not travel outside iOS4. The Ocarina app for example might not seamlessly translate to the best Android phone solutions, what with the differences in microphone positioning and function. But Apple will like that, complete inter-operation across the board, might be too much of a threat.
  9. Apple could decide to run an iOS emulation environment across the Android phone environment, so iPhone apps cross over and iPad apps do not. Keeping iPad apps restricted to the iPad hardware whilst the iPhone apps are allowed out. Again, Apple has choices and can play this game of extension and standardisation in ways that suit Apple and its customers and developers. Google's 'hands off' position on Android begins to look a bit more like a 'hands tied' stance.
  10. That Apple have not done this so far, is absolutely no guarantee that they might not be inclined to do it in the future.
There may be some element of the Android and iOS4 licensing that means that such a direct app cross compatibility cannot happen, (if so I am not sure what this road block could be). But if it is a possible development, then I am sure that Apple and Google will have done a bit of 'what-iffing' to consider the potential outcomes from such a move.

How will we be Reading Magazines in 2020?

We have been informally polling readers of this blog to find out how we think magazines will be read in ten years time (you may still enter the poll here). We offered eleven different options for magazine reading a decade from now. According to those who have completed the magazine poll these are the likeliest options:

  1. On a tablet (something like the iPad)
  2. In print on paper delivered via physical distribution
  3. On an e-ink device (something like the Kindle but with colour)
  4. On a device or medium unlike any of the others in this list
At the bottom of the list
  • From an image projected to a surface by a mobile phone (or something like that)
  • On heads-up interactive goggles
  • On silicon brain inplants
I guess we only put 'silicon brain inplants' in the hope of attracting the science fiction audience, but I am a bit surprised that 'On a device or medium unlike any others in this list' did not climb higher than the number 4 slot it now occupies. At the beginning of this year, Apple's iPad was still an unknown quantity, quite possibly a huge flop in the making; and yet now 9 months later, for many people it looks like the most likely way in which magazines will be read in the next decade. Surely there is a chance that something still better, and quite unheralded, may come along?

Well our sample of respondents does not think so, and this very same sample also thinks that it is very possible that the printed paper magazine will still be up there contesting the number one spot with the iPad or its successor of 2020.

We constructed this poll because we thought it might throw up some data that we should consider at our private (invitation only -- and I am afraid they have now all gone) Roundtable to discuss the current state of digital magazines at the British Library on December 1st. The theme of the Roundtable is: Bringing it all together: iPads, online and print; So we probably guessed right in putting iPads and other Tablets as the first of our themed discussions for the roundtable. These seem to be some of the tablet-related issues that may be addressed by our panelists on the day:

  • Are tablets now defining the format for digital magazines in the future?
  • Is it a problem that Apple makes by far the coolest device.
  • Will there be lots of tablet platforms? Apple, Android et al (this begins to look complicated!)
  • And what about mobile phones? Distinct or v different opportunities?
  • Can magazines sell/distribute digitally direct? Or do they need to go via an iTunes or a platform?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Magazine Publishers and Horse Dentistry

It seems that every other day brings a new bout of moaning about the limitations of the Apple iPad system as a digital magazine platform.

But are these complaints justified, or is it really an indication that magazine publishers are both missing the bus and looking a gift horse in the mouth? The latest piece of mis-guided bleating comes in an otherwise sensible article from Damon Kiesow in Poynter Online. He says:

What publishers and consumers need from Apple is a real digital newsstand, which would allow:
  1. One-stop shopping for multiple publications
  2. The ability to buy a single issue or subscribe
  3. Capability to connect print and tablet subscriptions, including any package discounts
  4. A central location to access purchased or downloaded publications
  5. Sales via iTunes or a publisher's own circulation system, with royalties adjusted appropriately
Damon Kiesow 3 strategies emerge for charging for iPad publications

These sound like reasonable requirements. But the plain fact is that iTunes and the app store pretty much does all that right now. Let us take them one at a time: (1) iTunes is a one stop shop for lots of publications, it is hardly Apple's fault if plenty of magazines have not ventured in there yet. Even so, the iTunes news stand is better stocked with newspapers and magazines than any other digital news stand. And getting stronger. (2) (the ability to buy single issues or subscriptions) as Kiesow acknowledges earlier in the article Apple through the iTunes app store allows publishers to sell single issues or subscriptions (at Exact Editions we enable publishers to sell 30 day subscriptions to their magazines which is not the same as selling single issues; but there are plenty of publishers and platforms selling single issues through iTunes) (3) (connecting print subscribers to apps) but as Kiesow recognises there is no obstacle to a magazine publisher connecting its existing paid subscribers for free to the app which is being sold by Apple in iTunes (he cites the experience of People magazine, but at Exact Editions we are encouraging all magazine publishers to do this: connect your existing subscribers for free through the branded app which you are offering in iTunes. This is completely within the letter and spirit of Apple's rules and guidance). (4) is completely baffling, because iTunes so obviously just is that; iTunes is a central location for e-commerce, for storing magazine issues and for providing users with access to archives. How would or could an Apple kiosk do that better? (5) (a system for 'sharing royalties') is already in place and Apple has the rather marvellous adjustment that a publisher can choose how to play the game, the publisher can either sell via iTunes in which case he will find that Apple have taken a 30% commission from the sale, or he can choose to give the magazine away, or indeed provide free access to subscribers from whom the publisher has charged an annual or monthly subscription (outside the Apple system). Not only can publishers connect customers who they have acquired via the iTunes system to their existing deals and print-based offers and incentives, but they can do that without paying Apple a cent for the business which is happening outside iTunes. Apple is being a lot more 'open' about this than will be some of the competing digital news-stands that are coming along.

All this should be known to the complainers in the magazine industry and I think that the real source of the griping, grumbling and equine mouth inspections is elsewhere. Perhaps these are the real problems:

  1. iTunes is not a complete digital back-end system for magazines. Publishers are used to having a specialist distribution house handle all complications to do with physical distribution and maybe they are hoping that Apple would be able to do this in the digital sphere and look after the magazine publishers special interests in the way that fulfillment houses have done. Once this is formally stated the idea is ludicrous, but some magazine experts talk as though its Apple's job to deliver, in full working order, the digital back-end of their industry. This is perhaps the burden of Kiesow's request that the putative Apple kiosk should 'connect' the print and tablet subscription ('including any packet discounts' -- I like that requirement: consider the extreme complications that could arise from blending infinite varieties of print/digital discount packages the magazine publishers will dream up; that modest requirement will keep Apple's engineers busy for years). But Apple is not in the magazine or newspaper business and it is not their job to build a system which solves the transitional dislocations of those industries.
  2. iTunes does not have an exclusive magazines-only zone. Like the iBooks store. This is true, but it may be a good thing for the magazine industry that Apple does not have a required format and delivery solution for magazines. The jury is still out on the iBooks solution, and perhaps Apple is being very wise in waiting to see how digital magazine delivery evolves. Why should they plump for a possibly half-baked digital standard when we still don't know what the right digital format for magazines is? Certainly Apple has not solved all the problems of digital magazine production, the result is that there is a rather interesting ferment of development and innovation. If Apple had developed a pre-packaged solution (cf Amazon and their so far half-hearted and not very good magazine delivery) we would not be witnessing these exciting experiments within iTunes.
  3. Apple is not being friendly enough to the existing magazine business. There have been a chorus of complaints about Apple not providing sufficient information on app usage to developers, or to magazine publishers who produce apps. The magazine industry is used to having its own tame auditing service (ABC and BPA being two of the biggest industry consortia providing such information), specifically geared to the magazine industry and its advertising customers. Apple has shown no signs of opening up its books to ABC or the BPA and is frankly unlikely to do so. Why should Apple be unmovable in this respect? Primarily because the business of auditing advertisements has moved on, and there is now no conceivable rationale for having an advertising metric which is exclusively tailored to the magazine industry. Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook etc will be the advertising networks that count in the future and they will all be trans-media (web, TV, film, digital publishing, social networking all in a big mix). Since 2005, the boom in digital advertising has shown that measurement and auditing is so closely tied to implementation and operations that it is naive to seek to recreate a magazine-specific analysis or distribution solution. Digital magazines will need advertising but they will need to work with digital solutions and digital metrics which are not narrowly specific to one industry or one media type. It certainly is not in Apple's game-plan or in their interest to gerrymander a magazine specific solution for reporting and measuring usage on magazine apps.
  4. It is hard to sell magazine subscriptions through iTunes. Kiesow correctly points out that Apple enables publishers to sell subscriptions, and there has never been a problem about doing this (we have been doing so at Exact Editions since the iPad launched). In contrast to Android, Apple in iOS 4 and iTunes actually has a rather effective way of providing in-app purchases of subscriptions. The problem for the magazine industry is rather different: iTunes customers are hugely biased towards buying stuff that is at the low end of the iTunes price matrix. It is very hard to sell annual subscriptions to magazines through iTunes at the prices that magazine publishers would like to charge (and perhaps need to charge). This is a real problem but it really is not Apple's fault, and they can hardly blamed for this supposed shortcoming. iTunes works very well for low-priced transactions. But it is hard to see annual magazine subscriptions through iTunes flowing off the digital shelves at prices of £20/$30 and upwards. So it will be interesting to see how Newsweek fares with its experiment of selling 6 months subscriptions through iTunes at $14.99. iTunes apps are pretty 'frictionless' when priced at $0.99 or $1.99. But it is much harder to sell subscriptions at $9.99 or $19.99. Perhaps Newsweek will start a trend, or maybe magazine publishers should stick with the scheme of using iTunes for customer acquisition and then upselling them to an annual subscription purchased via a credit card direct from the publisher (where consumers are happier to spend $9.99 or $29.99, for a publication they really value).
The conclusion that one should draw from all these niggling gripes about Apple is this: publishers do not realise how lucky they are, magazine gurus should stop complaining and use the Apple service for the tasks it performs so well, and get on and sell or freely provide (in the case of existing subscribers) access to the magazines that they can now deliver digitally or in print. When you think about it, it clearly would not be a good idea for the magazine industry if Apple did provide a complete and end-to-end solution for digital magazine distribution. Magazine publishers need Android, and Windows 7 and pure web distribution to preserve their independence and choice. They need alternative channels for magazine distribution not just an iTunes route to market. Magazines, not Apple need to control and manage their own digital distribution, and if Apple were suddenly to produce a comprehensive digital magazine service, this would be dangerously sedative if it stopped innovative publishers from looking to alternative digital distribution routes and technologies.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Adobe's Magazine Solution for the iPad

Here is an informative video podcast from the Adobe evangelist Terry White: "Adobe Digital Publishing to the iPad: A First Look"

It is a 15 minute overview of the solution for building iPad apps that Adobe is building for magazine publishers. As you might expect there are some neat software solutions in the package, especially notable are tools for placing video in a document page, for interactive/panoramic 3D photos and model rotation, and for full integration of a web page in the document. Cool stuff.

But the thing that really struck me with this overview is that Adobe is taking a big, and surely quite a risky bet on the way that we are going to read and interact with digital magazines. Adobe have decided that the information architecture for the digital magazine will be very different from the conventional paginated, linear, sequence of the printed magazine. The Adobe solution is entirely built on the proposition that digital magazines should have a matrix style of layout, with pages arrayed left/right in the horizontal plane, and also up/down in vertical 'stacks'. This concept seems quite natural for a 'story', or a set of photos, or a collection of cartoons, which can be read in the vertical 'drop' whilst the ordered contents of the magazine move along in the horizontal mode. This sounds like a logical way of planning a magazine issue and there is apparently no reason why a digital magazine should not be so arranged. We have seen quite a few early magazine apps already employing this, washing-line, information layout, by no means all of them from Adobe's developers. I am not convinced that users really want to read magazines in this way; but if they do, Adobe will be in a very strong position because they now have a direct set of tools for bridging magazine publishers from the InDesign package with which most high-end magazines are now produced, directly to a file format and an information architecture for the iPad to which Adobe are building an extensive and complementary set of tools.

On the other hand, there are several reasons for thinking that this big bet on the next stage for magazine architecture could be the wrong way for magazines to go digital. Here are some:

  1. Each magazine issue has to be precisely designed for the iPad, perhaps page by page, with adjustments and tweaks. The automatic layout tools in the package cannot guarantee a 100% result. This means more work in the publishing/design stage.
  2. Twice over. The magazine on the iPad should really have two sets of pages adjusted for the different aspect ratios of the landscape and the portrait mode of viewing the device. Terry White suggests in the video that the digital magazine could be designed for presentation in only one orientation, but that really is not a good option for the iPad. Magazine apps, or even ordinary documents, that can only be read in landscape or portrait mode on the iPad feel very lame.
  3. And then the magazine has to be re-engineered again for the iPhone (if that is supported) which has different proportions to the iPad.
  4. Redesigned, or re-tweaked, many times more (it is probably much worse than you think) since magazine publishers will need to review and tweak the magazine layouts again (twice) for as many alternative devices as will require magazine apps with different aspect ratios.
  5. Multi-page, multi-column, layouts work better in the horizontal plane than when read in vertical scroll mode. What do we do about that if the whole of the magazine is being matricised?
  6. This bi-valent, matrix, layout is arguably not a good solution for magazine users, because the arrangement of a digital magazine not only changes in potentially confusing ways as one switches a device between landscape and portrait mode, but it also confuses the reader as one transitions between different devices, or from print to digital. The overhead imposed on a publisher in needing to refine designs for different versions on different screens, is bad enough, but it is outweighed by the cognitive 'overhead' for users who need to relearn how to navigate and understand a magazine which is being presented in different ways on different devices.
  7. Are readers going to be happy with a reading style for magazines which is completely different from that used in reading newspapers or books? Are digital books meant to work as well in matrix mode as magazines? What about newspapers?
  8. Will this matrix layout work efficiently when you have magazine apps, book apps and newspaper apps on the same screen; for there will soon be bigger touch screens? Or when we wish to consult two issues of the one magazine? Matrices hog space in both dimensions.
Adobe need to have an app-building solution for the magazine industry where their software is an essential and highly regarded creative tool, but there are reasons for doubting the generality and flexibility of their current approach. If there are a score or more Android hardware devices in the next year -- three, four, or five of which achieve some level of consumer acceptance -- Adobe's decision to couple the design of a digital magazine so closely to the screen size and the hardware spec. will be sorely tested.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Khoi Vinh's Indigestion and the iPad

Khoi Vinh published, last week, a damning and severe critique of the current state of magazine iPad apps. Here are a couple of extracts:

My opinion about iPad-based magazines is that they run counter to how people use tablets today and, unless something changes, will remain at odds with the way people will use tablets as the medium matures. They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all.....

Take the recent release of the iPad app version of The New Yorker. Please. I downloaded an issue a few weeks ago and greatly enjoyed every single word of every article that I read (whatever the product experience, the journalism remains a notch above). But I hated everything else about it: it took way too long to download, cost me US$4.99 over and above the annual subscription fee that I already pay for the print edition and, as a content experience, was an impediment to my normal content consumption habits. I couldn’t email, blog, tweet or quote from the app, to say nothing of linking away to other sources — for magazine apps like these, the world outside is just a rumor to be denied. (My iPad Magazine Stand Khoi Vinh)

In fact Khoi is pretty gloomy about the prospects for the magazine industry:
The fact of the matter is that the mode of reading that a magazine represents is a mode that people are decreasingly interested in, that is making less and less sense as we forge further into this century, and that makes almost no sense on a tablet. As usual, these publishers require users to dive into environments that only negligibly acknowledge the world outside of their brand, if at all — a problem that’s abetted and exacerbated by the full-screen, single-window posture of all iPad software. (My iPad Magazine Stand Khoi Vinh)
There are some excellent responses to Khoi's depressing account of the magazine industry prospects in the comments which his blog has attracted. The best full-out response that I have seen comes from Mike Turro.

Without a doubt the future of magazines–both as an industry and a publishing framework–is uncertain. However, to write off the reading experience provided by a good magazine as a relic of the print world is extremely shortsighted. When Khoi offhandedly and anecdotally declares “that the mode of reading that a magazine represents is a mode that people are decreasingly interested in” he is assuming (though he does give a slight nod to the contrary) that the current use patterns of the web’s most emphatic users (also iPad’s early adopters) are an indication of the eventual use patterns of the population of tablet users as a whole. Khoi is certainly a smart guy, but it may be a bit early to make that call. (@Khoi Vinh's Beautiful Mistake Mike Turro)
Mike Turro calls Khoi Vinh's mistake, "beautiful". I am not so sure about that -- it could be a blunder, attributable to his indigestion through consuming too many unripe apps. It seems to me that 'magazine designers' are particularly excited and in many cases particularly disappointed by the possibilities of the iPad, because they have been thinking of the iPad as a new medium and a new design challenge for their typographic and layout skills, as though magazine publishers could own or control the device the way they control paper stocks and printed colour choices. But the iPad is not the medium but a digital device. Magazines will grow and change as they work out the potential of digital media, but they start this adventure the way they are. That is nothing to be ashamed or worried about. The excellence and remarkable quality of the iPad is that it is really a very 'neutral' digital enabler and any virtual, digital, media object should be able to thrive in its embrace. We should not be designing magazines (newspapers, books, films) for the iPad but for their audience, an audience that is increasingly digital and which will now have Galaxies and Droids as well as iPhones and iPads, and this means we should now be designing digital resources which can gracefully leap into different devices and across various media platforms. So if there is a reason for sticking to proven formats (pages, paragraphs, layouts, inserts, wrap-arounds, even belly bands and overlays, indices, cartoons, charts and tables) this is not because these formats are inherently digital, they are not, the reason for sticking with them is that the users/readers understand and enjoy this traditional 'grammar' of type. Too many of the magazine apps that we have seen for the iPad have been designed and engineered precisely for the iPad in a way that will make them impossible to deliver for the iPhone or the successful Android tablet which will surely appear in the next 6/9 months. A publisher or designer who crafts their magazine app specifically for the iPad is building in obsolescence and writing in tablets of stone a message that should be digital, transferable and evolving. The challenge which the iPad and other digital manifestations of the magazine will present to the publisher is this: how can we make a magazine that works well in print and in a range virtual manifestation on tablets, games consols and many other digital gadgets that we have not even considered yet? As Khoi Vinh and Mike Turro both recognise, this is very early days for the iPad and for tablet apps.

The requirement that a magazine should be consistent across a variety of print and digital manifestations certainly does not mean that it should be the same in those 'editions'; if, to take a specific and local example, you look at Exact Editions apps you will find that there is stuff that you can do with them on the web that you cannot do with them on the iPad, there is stuff that you can do with them on the iPhone that you cannot do on the iPad and there is plenty that you can do with them on the iPad that you cannot do on the web versions. The various digital forms of a magazine will be different from each other but they should have a common core; and a clever designer will make sure that a 21st Century magazine not only looks good in print, but also in its many digital variants where additional layers of interactivity and sociability will certainly accrue. I have been struck by the insistence with which the readers who subscribe to the magazine we support with apps and digital editions want the app to reflect and to represent the magazine that they know. They expect it to be on the iPad and they do not expect it to be something completely different from the magazine they may have been loyally reading for a decade and more.

Monday, November 01, 2010


Gramophone (The world's authority on classical music since 1923) joined the Exact Editions platform last week. The free trial issue has lots of intriguing articles:

If you have a subscription and are lucky enough to have an iPad, you will want to read it on that device, with the Exactly app from Exact Editions.