The tablet market has been heralded as a savior to the magazine industry. This is still playing out, but what's more clear is that tablets are invigorating software producers.
Print-to-mobile software platforms are evolving quickly, ranging from established vendors such as Adobe and Quark to a handful of upstarts geared toward the app world, such as Zinio, Flipboard, and PixelMags.
If you are a magazine publisher or producer of designed print content, you are without a doubt already migrating some "legacy" content such as magazines or brochures to a tablet or iPad app. And if you haven't done this yet, you are probably thinking about it -- which means a lot of research about software tools, workflow and technology platforms in the tablet world.
The move presents many challenges and tradeoffs. First, there is the publishing challenge of the business model -- making an app available, deciding whether or not to charge for it, whether it's by subscription or app download. Then there is the actual process of picking the technology and setting up shop -- which can be daunting given the number of solutions and approaches.
This obviously represents a huge business and operational challenge for publishers. Not only are they already supporting multiple platforms (print, Web, email), but tablets mean they must add even more formats to the mix.
"It is definitely a challenge," says Alon Koppel, Creative Director of FusionLab, a design studio that also publishes a photography magazine called View on the iPad. "Business models keep changing and [software] pricing models keep changing."
According to a number of publishing sources, there are more than 5,000 magazines available for tablet platforms. iPads take the top spot, with more than 3,000 titles now available, according to Publishing Executive. Amazon Kindle is in second place with about 800 titles on the platform, followed in third place by Android.
If you are a large publishing conglomerate -- say, a Conde Nast or a Time Inc -- you are going to want to adapt your existing publishing system. In theory, it should be as easy as pushing a button to take content from one platform (print) and put it on another (iPad). With large print publishing software providers such as Adobe and Quark constantly bringing their systems up to snuff for the tablet app world, this is becoming easier over time.
But these large, integrated design software programs are only one end of the market -- there also distribution specialists, conversion software providers, and other players occupying specific niches.
Let's take a quick look at these top tools and how they are differentiated in roughly three buckets: The traditional publishing tools, adapted for tablets; App-based aggregators that are organizing existing content into digestible packages for tablet readers; and conversion platforms that easily convert existing print content into simple digital formats.
Pro Tablet Publishing Tools
At the top of the heap, you have the large, integrated publishing systems that are adding tablet and mobile publishing functionality.
Adobe's Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) has become a leading industry standard and is used by many large magazine conglomerates. It's still regarded as the highest-end and most complete solution for designers who want to leverage Adobe's InDesign program and put the richest, most fully featured interactive content into an iPad app.
"We use DPS and so do many of the companies in NYC," says Joe Zeff of Joe Zeff Design in Montclair, N.J. "It's become a standard. This platform gives us a lot of agility. We can approach apps with a design-first mentality."
Adobe gives designers lots of flexibility in adding interactive features when they move the content from print to digital. But this comes at a cost, both in terms of price and time. Adobe is considered an expensive solution that may not be suitable for most smaller publishing houses. Its pricing scheme includes costs for each download and licensing seat.
So Adobe DPS, a solution favored by many publishing houses and integrated with Adobe's popular design software, InDesign, sits at the high end of the market and is suitable for the more deep-pocketed companies that want a richly featured mobile app.
Some smaller publishers are going with Quark, the Denver, CO-based private company that competes with Adobe in publishing systems. Quark has its own tablet and mobile publishing solutions including App Studio for Quark, which some users say is a strong product.
Quark App Studio
FusionLab's Koppel said he uses App Studio after scoping out several alternatives. "Quark developed App Studio and I like it," said Koppel. "AppStudio is small enough and flexible enough to make a nice magazine for iPad and it's not that expensive."
Tablet Publishing: Integrators and Aggregators
With Adobe and Quark leading from the area of magazine publishing tools, another bucket of technology for digital tablet and mobile publishing includes a number of integrators and content aggregators who are trying to make packaging, distributing, and marketing digital content easier through tablet channels.
In general, these offerings might be considered less sophisticated from the design perspective, as they often go for a "fast and quick" content distribution model, with the tradeoff being customization and sophistication.
Zinio, one such provider, is a pioneer of the mobile newsstands. It serves a wide array of publishers and claims more than 50,000 content brands and formats. Notable clients include Rolling Stone, Bloomberg, and GQ. Zino has its own reader technology based on Adobe AIR, but it's more like an integrator and distributor for publishers. It offers a service to help connect publishers and readers and faciliates the development of the mobile product.
Zeff, however, says Zinio's speed and ease of use comes with a cost: less flexibility. It's a "walled garden," he says. "Instead of having your own app you have an app within Zinio."
Flipboard is another content aggregator attacking the tablet world. Unlike Adobe and Quark, which are geared toward designers who are trying to convert and digitize print products, Flipboard is a more immediate solution that allows users to collect, "curate," and integrate their own digital content. It takes an optimized RSS feed and converts into a format digestible on tablets. Think of Flipboard as a sort of blogging tool for mobile apps. It's part publishing tool, part social network. It claims to have more than 50 million readers.
Zite, which is now owned by CNN, is another flavor of tablet-based content aggregator. Zite bills itself as a "personalized reader" that automatically learns what readers want to consume on iPad, iPhone and Android devices. Publishers can also introduce their content into the Zite system. It's geared toward providing consumers with access to mainstream content from largers publishers. But like Flipboard, this is more driven toward aggregating existing content than it is about re-designing print products for tablets.
Other Conversion Soutions
Yes, I've only covered few of the solutions. In truth, there are too many to cover here. In scoping out the world of print-to-mobile tools I've found there are dozens of them, all of them different. Below are a few more software tools that might be described as conversion systems for print-to-mobile.
- GTxcel owns the Rivista CMS and includes products called Digital Editions and Mobile apps which allow publishers to create mobile versions of their products. It is driven from the Web and HTML side of its Web CMS and supports platforms including Android, Amazon, the iPhone and the iPad.
- Pixelmags offers a way for designers to publish apps by converting print editions into digital formats..
- Push Pop Press is a software provider that allows users to create a "new kind of book." It was famously backed by Al Gore, and acquired by Facebook. Facebook plans to integrate the technology into Facebook to give people a richer publishing experience.
So, it's clear there are many different approaches to publishing apps and converting print content for the tablet market. Approaches can vary whether you are a high-end New York magazine chain or a mom-and-pop publisher. What's clear is that this market is exploding and new technology is making it easier and easier to publish and convert print content on mobile platforms.
Designer Zeff says this will continue to make the market dynamic and interesting, expecially as it moves into the enterprise market. "Think about what's happening with content marketing, all these companies want to take publishing and drive it into the enterprise," says Zeff. "There are some very interesting things happening."