The Future Of iPad Publishing – The Indies Are Coming

[Ashley Norris is CEO of branded content advisory Sutro Digital and director of Anorak Publishing, an independent publisher which has just published its first iPad magazine, Technode.]
From a mainstream publishing perspective, the jury is still very much out on tablet, and specifically iPad magazines. Some publishers argue that they are expensive, time-consuming and only reach a limited audience.
However, I also think that the reasons for producing them are becoming more compelling as each day passes. They can save huge costs for publishers on paper and distribution (especially customer publishing companies) and they enable publishers to rebrand, reposition or even start new media publications. Distribution is also less of an issue as sales of tablet PCs continue to rocket.
For the indie sector, they offer huge possibilities, which is why two companies that I have been involved with, Sutro Digital and Anorak Publishing are taking tablet magazines very seriously indeed. So why should smaller publishers be looking at the iPad? Here’s my take…

1. Branding

It is very simple to create a blog and get posting. Anyone can do it. Sustaining it, as anyone who have ever tried commercial blogging will tell you, is much more tricky (but that’s another matter)…
For the time being, there is still a barrier to entry to producing iPad magazines. Firstly, there are additional costs involved. Secondly, some design skills are required. And, thirdly, if you are going the whole hog and creating an app, you need Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) to approve what you are doing.
There is still an odd kind of prestige that industry people, and indeed readers, place on magazines. Readers have chosen a brand to read, may have invested money to buy it or time downloading it and will inevitably spend more time reading and interacting with it than they probably would a website. Ironically, in an era of reader-curated apps like Flipboard, and many others, many people still like the concept of a magazine which someone else has edited.
So in theory producing a magazine can make smaller publishers look a little more grown up and this might give them an advantage over web only brands in the way they are perceived by the industry and by advertisers.

2 Reinventing publishing

Some mainstream publishers have tried to shoehorn their existing publications on the iPad. It is clear that some things that work in weekly and monthly magazines look very odd in tablet versions. Also, while I can’t blame companies like Conde Nast for reproducing all the ads they have in their print editions on the iPad, it is highly annoying clicking through ads after ad before you get to the content.
Tablets offer publishers the opportunity to reinvent the magazine. Not just in ways that add interactive features and embedded video content, but also in the type of content in the magazine, the number of pages, the way issues are themed or features are connected and whole lot more.
Similarly, they might give smaller publishers new commercial models, too. How much more palatable would sponsorship of a publication be for the readers (with maybe a few pages of advertorial, as well as advertising) than endless page adverts? The level of engagement for the brand that sponsors a title would be much higher and, in many, ways akin to how brand sponsor TV programmes.

3. The costs are coming down

There are three main costs in producing a tablet magazine – editorial, design and technology. Designing pages is a skill that many bloggers and indie publishers need to buy in and it can work out very dear.
Meanwhile, the technology required to actually prepare a magazine for launch on the iPad used to be very expensive. What has happened in the last six months is that there are now significantly cheaper tech solutions, which also mean publishers can cut design costs too.
Publishers can get their titles on the iPad for nothing using Magcloud. A start-up from HP (NYSE: HPQ), Magcloud enables companies to publish PDF versions of their titles in three ways…

  1. As straight PDFs that anyone can download to PCs and smartphones (this is similar to rival services like Scribd).
  2. As a print on demand edition in which the publisher sets the price and has an option of making a small profit from each sale.
  3. The PDF versions are available as direct download to the iPad via the Magcloud store. Sure they lack interactive features but the content really does look good. I recently chose this route to launch the first issue of Who Ate all the Pies, a magazine from the team behind one of the UK’s most popular football blogs.

Ultimately, though, the key ticket for many small publishers is to have their own app so that the magazine is available via the Apple app store. This then enables the content creators to add interactive features and video content, as well as potentially chase some of those innovative ads that have been specially created for the Apple tablet. There are, of course? issues around who owns data lists which are currently giving mainstream publishers very real headaches. I think this is less of an issue for indie publishers.
Sutro Digital has been working with a company called Alligator Digital Magazines to launch its first iPad magazine Technode. A 40-page publication, it focuses on the way that gadgets are changing our lives and includes features on Augmented Reality, 4G mobile and how social networking is changing political protests. It is available for free download from the app store now or as a PDF from Magcloud.
Alligator Digital Magazines, who have also published the excellent Tablazines titles which were among the first dedicated iPad titles from within the indie sector. The price to create the app is now at a level that small publishers can afford. Also Alligator works with the publisher to create templates which will ultimately in the long run save on design costs.
Alligator is by no meas the only player in town. Yudu has a very good offering too. I am also keeping a very close eye on a German start up called Aside which has developed what it is claiming is the first magazine to be built completely in HTML5. The big deal for small publishers is that it means they can create a magazine that is fully interactive and works on a number of platforms without the need for an app.
I think the next few years could be fascinating for publishing. I don’t think we are back in 2005 when a host of new media brands (Huffington Post, Gawker etc) were able to spring up and steam a march on existing media companies. Innovative companies like Future (who have already posted some impressive iPad-driven digital figures) and Dennis have already recognised that tablet editions will be a huge part of their business and have been creating some superb content.
I do though think we will remember 2011 and 2012 as a time when publishing got a real shake up and savvy indie publishers played a key role in reinventing digital magazines.

This article was republished from Ashley Norris’ blog with permission.

This article originally appeared in CEO, Sutro Digital.