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.