Newspapers and magazines still clinging to hopes that tablets will help revitalize their businesses have something to look forward to this Fall. That's when Apple with launch Newsstand, a marketplace for digital publications that will be rolled out with iOS 5.
Adobe announced today that its Digital Publishing Suite will be ready when iOS 5 and Newsstand go live. Using DPS, media companies will now be able to publish directly into Newsstand, just as they can now publish stand-alone apps for iPads and other tablet devices.
Currently, media organizations that have published an iPad version of their publication run the risk of having it buried amongst thousands of apps in the traditional iTunes App Store. This includes not only other publications but a massive selection of apps across 20 categories, including everything from games to productivity tools. Apple's Newsstand gives publishers their own marketplace, much like iBooks provides a storefront exclusively for e-books. The result will be increased exposure for publishers.
This should, in theory, help them better monetize their content, although publishers already have mixed feelings about the 30% revenue cut Apple insists on taking from content sales.
The Future of Publishing or Print 2.0?
Adobe touts its DPS product as "a complete solution for both traditional media and business publishers," who can use it to export tablet-friendly versions of their print publications. The system essentially serves as an extension the print workflow, allowing publishers to enhance layouts built with Adobe InDesign with digital bells and whistles. It also offers tools for collecting subscription payments and analyzing basic user behavior. For more detailed analytics, publishers can plug in Adobe's Omniture service, so long as they are paying customers.
The system can be used to overlay interactive elements like slideshows, videos and rich, animated graphics. The end result is an experience akin to Wired's iPad edition, which was built using DPS. Other publishers using Adobe's digital publishing solution include Readers Digest, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and India's Hindustan Times.
Presumably these publications, along with others, will find their way into Apple's Newsstand, which appears to be designed to support an issue-by-issue release of periodicals.
These digitally-enhanced magazines and newspapers may be neat to look at, but are they really the future of publishing? Some argue that this model hinges too heavily on the print paradigm of releasing content in periodical chunks rather than letting information flow in a real-time stream as it does on the Web.
Most iPad editions of magazines are "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," wrote Khoi Vinh, former New York Times Design Director, in a blog post last year. "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."
Taking Better Advantage of the Tablet Form Factor
Indeed, digital magazines and newspapers that mimic print have not exactly wowed consumers. But that doesn't mean people aren't excited about reading news on tablets. Three of the most popular iPad apps in the "News" category of the App Store are Flipboard, Pulse and Zite, all personalized news reading and aggregation apps that have won their fair share of praise from users. Flipboard in particular was named "App of the Year" by Apple and made Time magazine's list of last year's best inventions.
Rather than bolt on an extension to their print workflow, which should already have some kind of pipeline to the Web, shouldn't publishers logically pick the workflow up from there and build a channel from the Web to tablets?
That's what disruptive news reading apps like Flipboard do and that's how many traditional newspapers publishers like The New York Times, USA Today and the BBC are doing. Their apps update as new pieces of content become available, not in regular chunks.
Of course, there's something to be said for the packaged reading experience that magazines offer, which can offer a respite from the real-time barrage of information that inundates us all each day. And if publishers have print editions, there's no reason they can't offer that experience on a tablet, perhaps as its own tab on an app that is otherwise dynamic, social, sharable and deeply interactive.