Digital publishing growing by combining print content, interactive features

Magazine publishers are finally pushing further into the digital space as tablets find a place in the tech world, but there are still major obstacles in the way.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

Many magazine publishers have brought there print publications to the tablet, much to the delight of tablet-owning magazine readers who are not such a small demographic as they might have been a year ago.

Digital publishing should look even more advanced within the next year. Next Issue Media (NIM), an independent media venture founded by five of the major global publishing houses (Conde Nast, Meredith, Hearst, News Corp., and Time) to translate the paper page to the display.

"The reason we’re here is to create a compelling, unified experience that the user can learn once and then consume all the different magazines within that environment," explained Keith Barraclough, chief technology officer of NIM, adding that experience must flow seamlessly all the way from the storefront down to how the user reads the magazine.

NIM has set up a cross-publisher, a cross-title platform that is scalable to be rolled out to different styles of publishing and genres on various devices. So far, the Next Issue app is supported on Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets, and it was highlighted as a premiere app for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 and 10.

More importantly, at least from a business angle, is that NIM's infrastructure provides publishers the necessary analytics that can ship behind the consumer experience -- meaning how the users are using the apps, what they're reading, what features they're using and more to get a better understanding of where to go with the app.

But a digital magazine platform really has to be about more than just reading these days. Thus, NIM will be rolling out the next version of its platform in early 2012, which will included deeper social media integration, 360-degree landscapes, video and audio content, and even geo-sensitive applications.

"Our feeling is that to get really immersive and interactive experience, its not just content," said Joe Simon, chief technology officer of Conde Nast, "It's a combination of content and technology."

However, there are still some stumbling blocks to overcome concerning both the technology and business of digital publishing. NIM's purpose is to streamline the trail between getting the content from the editors into the marketplace and to the consumer on mobile devices. But it's not as simple as bringing over some PDF files and putting them into an app.

"I think there’s a very strong push by magazine publishers to push the majority, if not all, their magazines to digital," Barraclough asserted, citing the big barriers as workflow and cost. "It’s not like you can afford to just stop printing and go to digital immediately."

Barraclough remarked "it's not a resistance to digital" but rather that the size of the tablet market just isn't large enough yet, and print advertisements are still the primary revenue stream for magazines.

Simon compared the magazine industry to the music industry in this regard, arguing that the major labels never had the kind of relationship with their customers like magazines do with their readers, especially considering the latter has regular subscribers. Thus, magazine publishers don't want to potentially damage, or even destroy, that relationship.

There other ideas being mulled about when it comes to digitizing magazines. HTML5 has been a hot topic when it comes to apps. Barraclough admitted that many of the publications that they work with, such as The New Yorker, have a lot of HTML behind the scenes. But then there are offline-reading concerns, which are more relevant to magazines than they might be for other actions on a tablet that require an Internet connection more often.


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