The iPad and Digital Publishing – Current Affairs

Since the introduction of the iPad in 2010, the state of digital publishing has gone through a lot of radical changes. Not unlike the shift towards “buy once and watch everywhere” in the movie industry, magazine publishers have had to account for the adjusted expectations of consumers.

The dust hasn’t settled from this big change yet, though, and this year it feels like things have really gotten a kickstart. There are a lot of ways publishers are handling this adjustment, and we’re going to outline a few of the responses over three feature articles here at iPad.AppStorm. In our first article, we’re taking a look at the basic principles of Newsstand and cross-platform pursuits like Zinio. So grab a cup of coffee and settle in: This is going to be good.

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The Difference Between Newsstand and Zinio

When the iPad debuted in 2010, Newsstand came with it. I remember my initial confusion with the app, mostly revolving around the terrible search engine. To date, there still isn’t a dedicated Newsstand-only search. The Newsstand Store is considered a genre within the App Store, but not a store on its own.

And that is a reflection of how Apple views Newsstand: It is simply a folder to house apps that Apple considers subscription-based magazines. In that sense, it offers unmatched flexibility (which plays a hand in some superior digital publications), but it doesn’t offer what Zinio offers.

Time for Men's Health on an iPad.

Time for Men’s Health on an iPad.

Zinio is, quite simply, an app exclusively for magazines. Its in-app store houses only magazines, which are not considered apps. They’re scanned pieces of paper, gloriously reproduced in sometimes-Retina and sometimes-not-Retina resolutions. (Men’s Health is Retina, and during my subscription, Empire Magazine sadly remained low resolution.)

Zinio views itself as an app that houses magazines, whereas Newsstand views itself as a folder that houses magazine apps. This is the key difference in understanding both of their limitations and successes.

The Current State of Affairs

Newsstand and Zinio both foster certain kinds of magazines though (Zinio in particular, it seems). They both work well (and demo best) with glossy, multimedia-filled magazines. In fact, since 2010, that’s largely what we’ve seen. It’s a tremendously flawed vision, in a lot of ways, because big and glossy magazines require a big and expensive staff.

Magazines don't necessarily transfer well to an iPad.

Magazines don’t necessarily transfer well to an iPad.

Zinio offers cross-platform compatibility with Android devices as well, further strengthening its “go big or go home” philosophy. Often, the magazines in Zinio and Newsstand behave like scanned PDFs with interactive elements.

For a while, I would read every new issue of Empire Magazine that came my way. It was the exact same as the paper issue I could flip through at my local library, but with the added benefit of viewable trailers I could interact with. There were a couple other minor things I could interact with — pop-up text boxes, for example — but the selling point was the trailers. In all honesty, the experience was kind of lame. I didn’t renew the subscription.

Walls and walls of text.

Walls and walls of text.

The other problem is that I didn’t see any reason to subscribe to a magazine like Sports Illustrated or Empire. Almost all of the information I wanted to read in both of them would be available online long before the magazine arrived on my iPhone and iPad. The problem these magazines have had in recent years thanks to the Internet is exacerbated when they’re viewed on an Internet-connected device.

In short, although the major Newsstand apps and Zinio magazines should be commended for trying to go digital to lessen their footprint, they end up causing more problems than they end up solving. In an attempt to become more immediate, they end up feeling more outdated. By trying to become more interactive, they shorthand themselves and leave me wanting for paper.

Zinio's Text view helps matters slightly, but doesn't offer any real fixes.

Zinio’s Text view helps matters slightly, but doesn’t offer any real fixes.

This all has to change. I’m not going to say that every magazine on Newsstand or Zinio is in dire need of complete change. Zinio has a Text view that makes it easier to read articles, but that’s more of a bandaid than a real solution. And there are some Newsstand apps that are expanding the horizons of what you can do with digital publishing (and we’ll be taking a look at those in part two).

But the general philosophies that Newsstand and Zinio encourage, the ones that support apps that are essentially glossy PDF files, are tremendously flawed and backwards. Digital is not meant to recreate the feeling of paper: It’s meant to push the possibilities of publishing into new directions.

That being said, there is one great cross-platform app that deserves special mention for its modern take on magazines.

I’ve Got My Flippy Floppy Flipboard

Flipboard is one of the coolest — and most interesting — “magazine” apps available. With their newest update, they’ve created a new way to foster magazine development: give the power to the users. In its earlier days, Flipboard was a great way to discover new content and bookmark sites, but it recently gained the ability to curate and share your own magazines.

Flipboard is all about magazine creations. This was a publicly shared magazine about James Gandolfini.

Flipboard is all about magazine creations. This was a publicly shared magazine about James Gandolfini.

Creating a magazine is easy, but sharing it is where it gets really interesting. What services like Spotify and Rdio are doing for music, Flipboard is trying to do for digital reading. It’s one of my favourite ways to read on my iPad (outside of my RSS readers, which are nearly like magazines in themselves).

Part of what makes Flipboard so interesting is its design, which many people have discussed. By sacrificing the page curls of apps like iBooks and replacing them with a simpler digital flip, Flipboard has come up with a design paradigm that works really well on an iPad screen and responds perfectly to touch.

Creating your own magazine is stupidly easy. I didn't need a Test magazine; it's so simple a dummy could do it.

Creating your own magazine is stupidly easy. I didn’t need a Test magazine; it’s so simple a dummy could do it.

What’s especially unique about Flipboard is that it also supports audio, so while you’re curating your own magazine, you can also choose your own soundtrack for the perfect mood. This is the sort of user control most magazine publishers would have dreamed to have come up with because it’s more than simply reading: It’s taking advantage of the technology at hand.

Looking to the Future

There are a lot of trends emerging in the magazine marketplace on the iPad, though. We’ve seen a lot of change in the years since the iPad’s introduction, but until recently, changes haven’t addressed the needs of mobile consumers. Glossy, digital PDFs are not the way to go with future publishing.

Thankfully, new ideas are changing the ways I look at digital publishing and have me excited for the future. We’re going to take a look at some of those new ideas in the next two parts of this series. Part two takes a look at fascinating indie apps coming from Newsstand, and why the distinction between Zinio as a magazine newsstand and Apple’s Newsstand as an app folder is so important.