The Flipping Pages Blog

Looking for the future of magazines

Posts Tagged ‘iPad

How do you read on the plane?

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I just read a post on Australian Business Traveller. Not something I’ve ever done before, but this could have been written just for me; Editor David Flynn is asking Australian flyers how they read in-flight.

This is a subject close to my heart. I reckon I spent at least 200 hours in the air last year, mostly transatlantic. I had to get the calculator out, but that’s 8.33 days stuck in an aircraft seat with not much to do but read, play games or watch movies. I’ll watch the odd film and play the odd game of seatback backgammon, but I spend most of my flying hours reading.

My routine is pretty predictable. On the way out I buy a real-live copy of the New Statesman, that gets me through the personal electronics device blackout of take off to my meal. After the chicken or beef I move to my iPad, where I bounce between Instapaper and my newest favourite magazine. But I can’r read too long on the iPad screen and eventually I’ll move on to the Kindle and one of the 10 books I’m reading at any given time.

It’s pretty much the same on the way back, magazines, iPad, Kindle, although Newark’s Hudson News stores seem to offer a wider choice that Manchester’s WH Smith.

The point in sharing my inflight reading habits really has nothing to do with my reading habits or the flight. The travel scenario just brings the range of choices available to magazine readers into narrow focus. In everyday life, on planes, on trains, in living rooms and bedrooms, offices and cafes, people are reading pixels and paper in all sorts of formats and for all sorts of reasons.

The challenge for publishers is to make sure that their content is available on the formats that make most sense for their audience in the places that their audience wants it. Quick hits on the move, get on smartphones; lean-back long-form, paper’s probably still your best bet;  if you’re thing is searchability, the web on the desktop makes sense; and if you’re pushing social sharing, tablets could be the way to go.

There are no easy answers, like me on a plane, everyone is using multiple platforms. You need to figure out which ones your audience uses most and be there for when they need you.

Read the original Australian Business Traveller article here.

Written by Peter Houston

February 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm

The Future of Digital Publishing

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Predict the future of digital publishingI was asked to predict the future of digital publishing this week. No, not really, but I was asked to answer a few questions about publishing in the digital era by an MA Publishing student working on a research study about the future of digital publishing. His emphasis is on the iPad and the replication of print periodical business models and values and how art direction can be used on the web.

Being as focused on re-purposing content as I am these days, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share my responses on the blog. If you have any thoughts about what I’ve said, please chime in, I’m sure my interviewer would welcome the input.

1. How do you think information consumption habits will change in the future?

The big issue for media consumption is fragmentation, both in terms of devices used and information sources. Consumers can access information on an ever growing list of platforms, from phones to tablets to TVs. This means information is more accessible, more places, than ever.

The economics of print publishing (magazines, newspaper and books) meant that control of what got published was reasonably centralized; digital publishing options have brought the barriers to publication down and the number of content producers has risen exponentially.

This is largely positive for consumers, the one problem it creates is how do people know what information to trust. This is the biggest single factor that commercial publishers need to hold on to and exploit when they are trying to figure out how to complete with startup websites, blogs and social media.

2. Do you think the iPad is capable of replicating the design, economics and experience of the print world?

Yes on design and reading experience – I think this is already happening with magazines like the New Yorker. But to be really successful the iPad needs to do more than replicate the print reading experience, otherwise what’s the benefit from the reader’s perspective? Readers might as well stick with print and not spend $400 for a reading device.

The economics of iPad publishing is a mess at the moment; the medium is still too new for the rules of the game to have been agreed. Advertisers, who fund most print publishing activities, are still wary of digital magazine formats. Readers are not paying for content in big enough numbers (look at recent coverage of the Daily), and publishers are struggling with Apple’s 30% subscription levy – do they eat it, or leave as the FT did and gamble on their own audience development efforts.

3. Looking at the figures for iPad magazines, it’s largely true that they haven’t resonated with the iPad’s user base. Why do you think this is?

Many things. One has been price – single copy prices have been too high and until recently have represented a double charge for the most loyal readers who already have print subscriptions. Also, many magazines haven’t figured out what they want to be on the iPad yet. I mentioned the New Yorker, which does a great job of transferring a much loved magazine format to the iPad. But if I could buy it on the newsstand, why would I read it on the iPad.

Popular Mechanics on the other hand does an incredible job of layering text, photography, video, animation and audio, but sometimes it gets just a little too complicated and overwhelming. People are still experimenting. Once they find the mix of bells and whistles that’s right for their audience and once the pricing/subscription issues get sorted out, I think take up will grow steadily.

4. With advancements in web typography and new web standards capable of achieving a richer user experience, do you agree with Khoi Vinh’s assertion that most content on the web will eventually return to it’s natural home – the browser?

I don’t know the answer to this and I actually don’t think it really matters too much. So long as readers can access content conveniently through an interface that makes sense to them, they won’t care. It’s a bit like arguing over whether perfect binding or saddle stitch is better for a print magazine. The reader doesn’t care so long as the pages stay together. This is really an issue for publishers and ultimately it will probably come down to which is most economical to produce and easiest to distribute.

5. Have you seen anything (apps or otherwise) that you feel is advancing the dialogue between digital publishing and the publishing industry? e.g. Flipboard?

I like the Flipboard and Zite concept, but the implementation is still a long way away from where it needs to be to truly add value. At the moment, Flipboard has maybe 20 publication integrated; it needs 20,000 for people to really feel that this is truly a personalized media platform and not just a funky Facebook viewer. Zinio, has this kind of volume, primarily because they plugged into the publisher’s existing production cycle. Long-term they will need to do more to help publishers optimize for multimedia, but I’m really interested to see where they end up.

 6. If you were going to start a magazine or newspaper from scratch, what things would you take into account today? (In addition to anything mentioned above).

Same as it ever was, good content, strong audience need and a decent revenue stream. What’s different now is the content needs to be multi-platform and it’s crucial to find out what the most important platforms are for your audience. We did some research recently in the Scientific community and we were a little surprised to discover that the iPad just isn’t there yet.

Written by Peter Houston

October 10, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Poetry’s second coming… “Slouching towards the iPad to be re-born…”

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Waste Land AppFaber & Faber is dragging poetry into the 21st century with an iPad version of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. This is nothing to do with digital magazines, but it was too pretentious a headline to pass up (Yeah, I know it’s Yeats not Eliot).

I actually think the centre will hold for Faber on this; it’s a brilliant idea, taking full advantage of iPad functionality to give published poetry back it’s voice. The app features a new filmed performance of the poem by Fiona Shaw, readings by Eliot and Ted Hughes and video perspectives from, among others Seamus Heaney. Not bad for £7.99

I can’t wait for someone to get a hold of Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas. Meanwhile, here’s T.S. Eliot reading The Burial of the Dead from The Waste Land.

Written by Peter Houston

June 7, 2011 at 9:50 pm

“Ossification my arse… “

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I was just catching up with the #specmedia Twitter feed from the Specialist Media Show. Clicking off to a blog post I was surprised to read this on the Concentric Dots blog:

From the moment I arrived at the show in Peterborough, I recognised the ossification I’ve experienced before when viewing production in the special interest publishing sector. Somehow the sector seems to suffer more than others and seems blinkered to the opportunities of digital innovation and partnership.

What Specialist Media Show were you at Mr Bateman? It clearly wasn’t the one where the audience got quite giddy when Ashley Friedlein of eConsultancy profiled the digital revenue potential of visitors to his website in real-time. It wasn’t the one where Ben Greenish talked about publishing his 183-year old title on the Kindle and stated that the world is changing so fast strategy is not an option, only action will do.

At the event I was at, the talk was all about embracing digital, from iPad editions to hyper-local communities and electronic site licensing.  I heard about newsletter companies reinventing themselves as data analysts, a Christian-ministries magazine selling sermons online and a former dog trainer gaming the search engines like a binary publishing Rin-Tin-Tin.  At the editorial roundtable I hosted, all we spoke about was CMS functionality, digital content syndication and how to reward old-school journalists for pushing the digital envelope.

No question that the delegates I spoke to had more questions than answers, but everyone recognised the changes taking place and all had experienced the painful truth of Joseph Schumpeter’s analysis, “hardly any ‘ways of doing things’ which have been optimal before remain so…”.

Casually casting “the media”, specialist or mainstream, as apathetic luddites is flat-earth thinking. The media has moved on Mr Bateman.We are well aware that we need to move online with our communities – we are doing it – and your analysis of the Specialist Media Show reminds me of what might have been one Joe Schumpeter’s lesser known quotations, “Ossification my arse…”.

Disclosure | I have spoken at the Specialist Media Show two years running (and would delightedly do so again if invited back).

Russell Clark on iGizmo and designing magazines for the iPad

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Russell ClarkiGizmo from Dennis publishing was one of the first digital magazines that I saw and thought, “OK there’s more we can do here.” The digital-only monthly has been serving up a strong mix of words and multimedia to a gadget-happy audience since 2008. Late in September 2010, the magazine jumped onto the iPad and in stark contrast to the New Yorker app that went live the same day, was heavily layered and packed with menu driven content, videos and 360-degree animations. It looked like  the iGizmo team had been getting ready for the iPad for a very long time.

Not long after the launch, I took the chance to speak with iGizmo Art Director and founder of, Russell Clark, to find out what he thought of his new baby.

How did it feel to see iGizmo on the iPad for the first time?

It was a relief! Apple has the last say with any App so I was just glad it passed the process and went into the App store. To download it from iTunes was just like walking into a newsagent and seeing your shiny mag sitting there on the shelf, a feeling of accomplishment. The best part however, was seeing it rocket up the charts to number one, and in very little time. There have been so many positive reviews and emails from readers. It’s good to know there are a lot of people out there, who wanted to see what we wanted to make.

I’ve heard people say that iGizmo was designed for the iPad even before the iPad existed.

All of us at iGIZMO are gadget lovers, and as such we’ve wanted to see cool tech like the iPad for years. iGIZMO was originally designed for web based desktops, but we always knew it would suit a touch device perfectly. It was only a matter of time really and adapting it was reassuringly easy. I’m sure iGIZMO will evolve along with the technology we use to view it.

What’s the biggest difference between working for print, working for the computer screen and now working for the iPad?

It’s an entirely different ball game really. Everything is different; font sizes, units of measurements, dpi, colour pallets, the amount of content. The biggie is thinking in terms of multi-layered interactivity. How to link that in with a familiar magazine feel. How to implement video, animation and games to entertain your reader whilst giving them useful information. It’s a careful balance.

The jump from web eMag to iPad isn’t so bad, but the big one to get your head around is designing for two orientations. Since the iPad can be held both vertically and horizontally each page needs to be designed twice. It’s a bit like learning how to put a square peg in a round hole, but doing so in a stylish and cool way. It’s a challenge, and to do it fast, doubly so. It’s good fun.

Is iGizmo on the desktop and iGizmo on the iPad basically the same magazine or are there major differences?

The same content exists in each format, there may be some layout differences but generally they are the same magazine. The reading experience is obviously different though because of the touch interface, that’s an important part of the experience for me. The only real difference lies in the way they are constructed, iGIZMO for the Ceros platform is Flash based, therefore a team of Flash developers work on the title. With the iPad versions it’s all made using Adobe InDesign CS5, no developer resources or code writers are needed. It brings flexibility back to the creative editorial process and makes for a very easy and efficient production workflow.

What is the biggest consideration designing for the iPad?

I’d say the amount of content to put into the magazine is something that needs careful consideration. The iPad’s biggest asset is also its biggest downfall; it can do so much cool stuff; attention spans aren’t always great and people have expectations of rich content. We need to keep interactive magazines consumable.

By that I don’t mean cutting down on content, just by finding new and exciting ways to deliver it; videos, audio, interactive elements, graphics and good design. iPad issues don’t have to be 100 pages long, they don’t need 1,000 words on every page. They need to be graphically appealing, interactive and enjoyable.

We cant reproduce print PDFs any more –  there’s no long term business there, we need to cater for these devices properly in order to give the reader a quality product they will buy, read and enjoy again and again.

The first issue of IGizmo came out March 2008 – what’s changed in digital magazines since then?

Popularity would be the main thing. iGIZMO has been publishing for two and a half years now as a free title. Pretty impressive and it says a lot about its loyal readers and also advertisers who have embraced the platform enough to sustain it. People have finally taken notice of eMags and the introduction of the iPad has emphasised the importance of digital magazines more than ever.

Whilst numerous print titles have closed, we have seen a rise in the amount of eMags being launched. It’s fair to say one or two eMags have also closed but there has been an undeniable growth, especially in the b2b and contract publishing markets. Technology wise; the online side of things hasn’t changed a great deal in that time. But the tools available just beg you to push the boundaries and creativity to a new high, people are doing some brilliant things with eMags at the moment.

Digital magazines are also starting to win awards, with Redwood’s Virgin Electric magazine last year winng a BSME award. The year prior to that iGIZMO was nominated for Launch of the Year, and also won a PPA award. 2010 also saw the first Digital Magazine Awards, which will hopefully bring a lot of recognition to the industry and get people talking.

What’s next for digital magazines?

We’re all hoping an Apple Magazine Store will be launched soon, maybe along with the iPad Two early next year. This could bring a great deal of stability to the eMag industry. Online magazine stores are a must; readers need a place they can go to browse and buy magazines, its the one thing missing from the eMag experience. Love or loathe ’em, Apple have a tendency to set trends. The iPad has sold amazingly well and with new devices on the way, the market is only going to grow.

One day I believe we’ll see electronic paper widely used. Along with super-speed, nationwide wifi coverage. Augmented reality integrated within magazines and cloud based data storage with greater personalised, interactive content.

I also harbour hopes to one day work on the worlds first, interactive ‘Flying Car Monthly’.

Written by Peter Houston

November 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm

iPad challengers are good for digital magazine publishers

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Samsung Galaxy TabWith announcements from Samsung and Toshiba at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin last week, it looks like the big boys are gearing up to go after a share of the tablet market initiated by Apple’s iPad. It’s anyone’s guess whether they can compete with Apple, which already has an “installed” user base of over 3 million with the iPad. Early signs are that competition will centre on smaller sizes, lower prices and on the things missing from the iPad: Cameras and Flash, for example.

Why should magazine people care what’s going on in the consumer tech market? As long as digital magazines are tied to the desktop, usage will be limited. Tablets make digital magazines portable again – the one huge benefit of print that digital media has struggled with. The more tablet devices out there, the easier it will be for people to read digital magazines like they read print magazines, on the sofa, on the train, anywhere they want.

We can maybe imagine a world where everyone has an iPad. It might even be quite nice: Universal publishing standards could be set, we would all know where we stood. But the reality is that not everyone will buy an iPad, Apple doesn’t have all the answers and competition can only be good for this market. After some false starts, we might finally be seeing the development of a sustainable Tablet computer market, but we are only at the beginning. The more big players that get involved, the more choice consumers will have and the more likely users are to adopt these devices.

Just to be clear – by users I mean your readers, and by devices, I mean platforms for your digital magazines.

Written by Peter Houston

September 6, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Zmags Mobile BETA launched

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ZmagsThe debate over the relative advantages of mobile apps versus browser-based content is picking up momentum and Zmags recently launched its Mobile BETA service on the browser side of the argument.

Joakim Ditlev, Copenhagen-based Director of Marketing Operations for Zmags, says they focused on the primary goal of optimizing the user experience specifically on mobile devices. Key mobile functions include searching in the browser, finding and clicking on links, and the ability of following links directly from emails or websites. “The definition of good user experience is different depending on the device. On a small mobile phone, readers want speed and simplicity and on a desktop, readers expect a rich, interactive experience. Zmags Mobile is accessible, fast, and simple,” says Ditlev.

He believes it is important to deliver maximum reach to digital magazine publishers and that browser-based content delivers this. “On mobile it is all about making digital publications immediately available. Readers on the move usually have scarce time and having them download an app before accessing content will often be a show-stopper.”

Ditlev lists another advantage of the browser-based approach: “The content owner is in control of the distribution, unlike distributing through App stores, where especially Apple has unpredictable and dimly lit policies on what content is allowed and what is not.”

Zmags Mobile BETA supports zooming (tap and pinch), touch navigation (slide) and automatic conversion from single page to split pages (spreads) when the smart phone or tablet is rotated. “Our goal was to use standard navigation and view features that mobile browsers support,” said Ditlev. The trade off is in sacrificing enriched content and advanced features familiar to desktop users. “These are not supported in the mobile version,” he explains.

Ditlev is adamant that Zmags will continue to support Flash for all desktop, notebook, and netbook devices. “Flash is available on more than 98% of all computers, which makes it the most widely used content platform for interactive rich content on non-mobile devices. If Flash becomes more widely available on mobile devices Zmags will look to support Flash on these devices.”

The current reality is, however, that Flash is not supported on many mobile devices including Apple’s iPhone or iPad. “Other technologies must be used to support rich media like video on these devices. HTML5 supports video playback and has the advantage that no 3rd party plug-in is required, so Zmags selectively uses HTML5 and CSS3 tags in the mobile viewer,” Ditlev says.

You can find out more about Zmags Mobile BETA here or listen to Zmags founder Jens Kartoff talk more about the thinking behind the Mobile Beta launch in the video below.

Written by Peter Houston

July 16, 2010 at 12:11 pm

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