Cross-device platform publishing doesn’t exist. Not yet anyway.

Having recently been commissioned to carry out a study of the digital publishing platforms1 currently available, one aspect has become abundantly clear: everyone is chasing the dream.

The dream, depicted as a kind of candy wrapper in posters on the walls of so many publishing exhibition booths, is of a mechanism by which source content is input (one side of the candy wrapper), some magic happens (the candy itself) resulting in packaged experiences available seamlessly across desktop browsers, tablets and mobile phones (the other side of the candy wrapper).


Sure, platforms exist that cater well for specific devices, and some that cater well for multiple devices, but none by using the same original, designed content, played in a form that works cross-device.  Maybe this is an unrealistic expectation. The tablet user interface for instance, inherently differs from the desktop interface. Swiping makes no sense on the desktop, whilst mouse-over makes no sense on a tablet. Purely from a design perspective then, surely it is impractical to cater for both? And what about differences in format? A page/window/panel/screen (delete as inappropriate) on one device will have a different aspect ratio on another.

In design resource alone, brands looking to publish across as wide a gamut of devices as possible are faced with an expensive undertaking. Cost pressure alone is driving demand.

It may be that initial releases require compromise in design. Alternatively, compromise may be in functionality. Either way, platforms will exist because demand dictates. And whoever caters for the demand, and does so well, is likely to do very nicely.

1Where ‘platform’ is used to describe a mechanism by which source content is input, edited, transformed and published to multiple devices in a format sympathetic to the high design value of a glossy magazine and capable of harnessing the interactivity of digital media.


Steve Jobs. A return to mediocrity?

Steve Jobs defied covention and abhorred mediocrity. His creations set the benchmark for design. Competitors, such as they exist, have for the most part been ‘also-rans.’ Will Jobs’ death mark a return to mediocrity? I don’t think so. Why? Becuase as Obama said, “Steve Jobs changed the way each of us sees the World.” If mediocrity creeps in, we’ll see that as well.

Apples made great carrots in 1982. And they still do in 2011

Not another iPad Article.

Actually it is. Another iPad article, I mean. You see, I’m conscious that in the ‘meeja’ world, iPad fatigue seems to be setting in. The frenzied pre-launch excitement has been replaced by an almost palpable resignation. Where once there was enthusiasm, there now seems plain old inevitability. But look closer and it seems the feeling of, well, if not reluctance then certainly skepticism, emanates most noticeably from a particular sector: consumer publishing.

Of all media sectors, consumer publishing has borne the brunt of iPad R&D and launch costs and has thus far at least, been unable to enjoy financial benefit. This is due in no small part to the challenges in creating a sufficiently compelling app to attract repeat purchase whilst at the same time ensuring the production process is viable enough to sustain regular production.

Whilst apps clearly sell, the vast majority are those that perform a specific, discrete function. In other words, they are purchased only once. A magazine app (as opposed to a magazine-branded app) is published repeatedly and therefore assumes repeat purchase. In many ways therefore, a magazine app must be extraordinarily impressive to stand out and attract repeat, regular purchase in sustainable volumes.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the 3 things the iPad brings to publishing: confusion, opportunity and a defining moment. At the time, the confusion was due largely to the lack of clarity in appropriate business models. This has since been diminished (by default) by Apple’s explanation of their subscription policy, which, contrary to many hysterical reports, is actually pretty clear (see below for a summary).

Sadly, Apple’s clarity apparently confounds consumer publishing’s woes, prompting a deluge of incredulous comment and even triggering disapproving noises from the normally conservative Forrester. Publishers should be under no illusions; the policy is unlikely to change. With the music industry, Apple has set a precedent for their 70/30 revenue split (the so-called ‘dirty percent’). And as a consumer, their data policy is difficult to argue against.

So what does this mean for content agencies? It means the opportunity is all the more prevalent. Brands know there is money to be made and they know Apple is the gateway. With no realistic competition anywhere on the horizon, the iPad is crying out for compelling content. The confusion has lessened and the opportunity has increased.


Motorola want you to get excited? Can you feel it?

The Motorola Xoom. Excited? Motorola certainly want you to be. 

Conceding to Apple’s formidable marketing machine, it seems poignant (and perhaps a little sad) Motorola feel the need to include a ‘Get Excited’ button on their website.

Click the image. Take a look.

Despite this, there remains relatively few iPad Apps originating from content agencies. And I’m not necessarily talking about magazine Apps. As a fan of great content, and therefore a fan of content agencies, this worries me.

“The vast majority of the apps available were created for the iPhone and do not fully exploit the capabilities of the iPad. Users report higher satisfaction with iPad-dedicated applications, however, and want more of them.”

– McKinsey ‘Understanding the iPad’ report, February 2011

Just a week ago Sky announced a radical switch from printed magazines to digital solutions; Apple launched the iPad 2 (barely a year after iPad 1); and McKinsey stated Tablet devices “are set to become the ‘control point’ for consumers’ media use..”

As last years APA Content Summit promo said,”If you’re not engaging, right now, you’re disengaging, and your customers will become someone else’s..”

Apple’s Subs policy in summary

  1. App Store Apps may only use In App Purchase (IAP) technology from within the App.
  2. App Store Apps must not direct users to commerce or transactions outside the IAP system.
  3. App Store Apps must price IAP and subscription content the same as, or lower than, equivalent content offered outside the App.

Apple’s Data policy

Customers purchasing a subscription through the App Store will be given the option of providing the publisher with their name, email address, and zip code. The use of such information will be governed by the publisher’s privacy policy rather than Apple’s. Publishers may seek additional information from App Store customers provided those customers are given a clear choice, and are informed that any additional information will be handled under the publisher’s privacy policy rather than Apple’s.

Association of Publishing Agencies Article originally written for  the APA

The 3 things the iPad brings to publishing

1. Confusion

In many ways, despite the its long-anticipated arrival, the iPad came into being well before anyone was ready. Naturally, it launched great fanfare but once the noise had died down, there seemed a collective shrugging of shoulders amongst content-owners as if to say, ‘well, what do we do now?’ with each waiting for the other to make a move.

It was like the Droopy carton when a troop of Mounties is asked for a volunteer and in unison, they all step backward. All that is, apart from Droopy, left at the front, a volunteer by default..

Since then of course, there have been many different incarnations of iPad content, ranging from duplicated print publications through to bespoke built-for-the-device pieces. What remains however, is the underlying confusion about what form iPad content should take. I’m not talking about functional apps (build once, download once), I’m talking here about Content Apps, where the headline function remains the same but the content changes regularly. In other words, magazines.

Confounding this confusion is a stubborn disinclination among magazine publishers to accept that a magazine designed for one media is unlikely to work well when published in another. The emphasis here is on working well. Sure, the same content can be made available in print, on the Web, on TV, on mobile devices and on tablets as well, but it is only likely to belong, it is only likely to truly work in the media for which it was originally designed.

I make these comments not based upon unfounded theory, I make them because there are inherent mechanical differences in the ways in which consumers can interface with different media and as a result, differences in the way content should be constructed. For example, on the iPad there is no ‘mouse-over’ function whilst on the ‘desktop’ (which is destined to become a rather grey area), there is. This is not a deficiency of the iPad, it is simply an inherent aspect of the touchscreen interface which, unlike the desktop/mouse relationship is ‘normally off’ as opposed to ‘normally on.’ This is just one difference. There are many others that reinforce a philosophy of design-for-the-purpose.

Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works
– Steve Jobs

This is all very nice in theory of course but the implication is that a magazine publisher with a successful print brand must design a new product for every media. Throw in the iPad and there is not only a new media – the Tablet – there is also a new category, the device itself. Worse still, there are two design formats to consider – portrait and landscape. So in fact aside from the small matter of marketing and distribution strategies, discussed at length in this article, the print publisher must accept that the iPad incarnation of the brand is: a) a new product; b) likely to be proprietary to the iPad and; c) must be designed not once, but twice if portrait and landscape formats are deemed important to the consumer.

2. Opportunity

Predictably, the initial hysteria around how many downloads of ‘this magazine’ or ‘that magazine’ has given way to a harsh reality: few, if any, are making money yet. This will change but only as a) business models stabilise and b) compelling content can be created efficiently on a regular basis. The ‘right’ business model for a given brand will only be found through time and experimentation (although Apple will have something to say if it involves ‘free) but the ability to efficiently create engaging content that belongs on and exercises the device is the greater challenge – and a truly massive opportunity.

To date, Apple claim they have sold over 15 Million iPads. Last weekend my son’s 10yr old friend turned up with a an iPad in his bag. He’d forgotten he had one.

Over-indulged 10yr olds aside, there is an important point here. In just 12 months, the iPad has become the fastest-selling new media device in history. Yet, despite its phenomenal sales as a media consumption device, there has been precious little iPad-specific media to actually consume. Magazines have been largely disappointing, where baffling user experiences and cumbersome downloads abound. It really is little surprise the early adopters haven’t returned in their original numbers. But when Forrester predict over 20 million iPads in circulation by in 2011, just imagine what this means to the content-owners that get it right.


Forrester eReader Forecast 2010 to 2015. All figures in miilions of US adults

3. A Defining Moment

Sounds rather grandiose but the launch of iPad really is a defining moment. Why defining? because it marks a fundamental change in the way human beings interface with ‘intelligent’ devices. Touchscreen is nothing new but that’s not the point. It’s the execution that counts.

Star Trek iPad

Captain's Log. Star Date? 1990

This iPad will self-destruct. The year? 2004

The iPad is the first real-world incarnation of a well-executed touchscreen interface. As such, its significance cannot be underestimated. It is the catalyst for a completely new generation of human/electronic interaction. It will directly influence the way web content will be designed and built for at least the next decade. And just look what it started. The chart below details the Tablet devices due in the next 12 months alone. I mean just look at it. Its incredible.

Tablet Devices due in 2011

Clearly, market forces will determine which of these devices live to see 2012 but just pause for a second and take another look at the list. Amazing isn’t it? That the iPad represents a Defining Moment (deliberate use of uppercase) is frankly an understatement.