Irony Alert

As I develop my class curriculum for the upcoming PRINT 13 event on creating tablet apps, I realized I needed to become an Apple developer. This was not an unreasonable requirement, since my class involved teaching people how to create content apps for Apple iPad using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) and Quark’s AppStudio.

For the cost of only $99 a year, I thought, “why not? What could possibly go wrong?” So I dutifully went to the Adobe-recommended page ( and, with a shiny new Apple ID and a credit card, prepared myself to enter the Holy of Holies.

To my dismay, the vast majority of sites I needed were down for “overhaul.” Check it out:

Apple developer status screen, as of July 26, 2013.
With only two out of 15 servers online, it made me wonder how Apple, with all its marketing panache, can survive over the long haul. Yes, developers will continue to gather at the “cool kids’ table” for bragging rights on the latest gadgets. However, sooner or later, if companies treat developers with disdain, then even the most sycophantic will start to look elsewhere.


E-Book ’em, Danno

For the past few months, I’ve been privileged to work with the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) on their latest study, Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading ( The first of four reports, covering each of the planned survey fieldings, is scheduled to drop the week of January 17. Some of the emerging trends are stunning.

One of the clear trends is the decline of PCs (desktops, laptops and netbook computers) as preferred reading devices. Dedicated e-readers, such as Kindle, Nook and the Sony Reader, are rapidly displacing these for trade titles. (Educational titles are another matter, but that’s a separate BISG study.) Tablets and other multi-functional devices like the iPad are also growing in popularity, but not nearly as much as dedicated e-readers. We also noted that Barnes & Noble’s Nook, despite the fact that it was only 12% of the growing dedicated e-reader segment, scored highest in customer satisfaction, compared to Kindle and especially iPad.

We paid particular attention to the “power buyers” — those who acquired e-book at least weekly. Their demographic indicators (younger, more educated, more urban, etc.) are particularly valuable to publishers looking to future markets. Publishers struggling with e-book economics ignore this group at their peril.

The study dealt with the “cannibalism” issue: whether e-book acquisition negatively impacted the purchase of printed books. The answer, especially for the power buyer segment, is yes. However, total acquisition numbers (both print and e-books) are up. This means that publishers will have to address pricing and other supply chain issues rapidly, developing business models adapted to this growing consumer segment.

There is more analysis in the summary report — which is well worth the price. (BISG also sells access to their Real-Time Reporting system, for publishers who need to access all the survey data.) Whether or not 2011 is “the year of the e-book” is frankly a meaningless question. The future is already here.

— John Parsons (


The App’s The Thing

As the iPad frenzy continues, magazine publishers are once again headed for the gold fields of digital editions (or DEs). Last week, Time launched a splashy — and expensive — iPad edition, and Zinio’s reader has become the #1 free app for the iPad, to name only two examples. Apple has left itself vulnerable to an Android/Flash counterattack, but the DE 2.0 bubble has clearly begun. Not everyone will survive.

Tablet-based digital editions — on the iPad or elsewhere — are beginning to explore truly useful interactivity. First generation DEs were often little more than digital facsimile flipbooks, the better ones adding search, article sharing and the insertion of URLs. All that has changed. Time’s new iPad wonder was created with newly announced WoodWing technology — allowing InDesign users to easily add photo galleries, videos, live data feeds and other non-print elements while creating the print version. The final product includes flexible article reading views and other nice touches for multimedia viewing. Early audience feedback has been positive, although the $4.99-per-issue price has not gone over well.

The early bumps will be worked out, including the chaos of multiple vendors creating multiple user interfaces, and visibility limitations for display ads. Even Apple has generously offered to help on the in-app mobile advertising front. These are evolutionary changes, however. The real DE revolution — the issue that will make or break a magazine’s efforts — is the use of interactive, truly personalized apps within the greater app that is the magazine’s digital edition.

WoodWing has anticipated this, allowing designers to insert interactive “widgets” in each issue. Other DE developers are moving in this direction. More than slideshows and video clips, these embedded apps represent publishers’ and advertisers’ best hope for creating real engagement — and a reason to bet on the success of digital editions on any platform.

Personalization is the key to a successful embedded app, and to the digital edition that features it. Giving the subscriber reasons to keep using the app — whether or not they buy anything today — will make it a thing of value, a compelling motivation to prefer the DE over the printed version. The possibilities are endless, from collections of one’s favorite recipes to business surveys to vacation itineraries, and so forth. Creating and saving actionable information, based on individual needs and requests, will be at the heart of successful apps within magazine DEs.

Embedding video or games in a digital edition might seem like a good idea, but there are plenty of media and entertainment companies that do such things better than most magazine publishers. Engaging, personalized apps, on the other hand, are new to almost everyone. They can also leverage the inherent storytelling and data gathering strengths of any good magazine and its advertisers. Let the creativity begin!

John Parsons (originally published in Publishing Executive,
at; re-posted with permission)

Adobe Creative Suite 5 to Break Apple’s Anti-Flash Blockade (Sort Of)

Adobe’s upcoming launch of Creative Suite 5 will be of particular interest to content creators within multiple publishing disciplines. I’ll explain what I mean in detail — when the wraps come off on April 12. However, I’m not breaking my NDA by discussing one fascinating tidbit: Flash Professional CS5 will let you create iPhone and iPad content. While it’s not the breakthrough that Flash addicts were hoping for, it’s a start.

In brief, Flash Pro CS5 will include a “Packager” application that will allow the user to publish ActionScript 3 projects to run as native iPhone and iPad applications — delivered solely via the Apple App Store. These can be monetized through in-application ads (handled via Adobe’s mobile ad network partner Greystripe) or by selling the app itself it through Apple. Neither prospect will be thrilling to publishers or advertisers, but at least in the short term, iPad fever may overcome the constrained revenue models.

For new Flash projects, Packager will be a laborsaving godsend. For the vast ocean of existing Flash content, not so much. SWF files and other runtime code cannot be loaded by the new Packager apps, nor can the iPhone/iPad browser handle Flash content in existing Web sites. So, for the most part, Apple’s quixotic campaign to exclude the popular format is still in force.

Apple’s defense of a not-so-Flashy iPad is twofold. From a purely PR standpoint, the company is working overtime to point out how many digital publications are “iPad ready.” Most of these are high-profile titles that have decided to concede to Apple’s dicta, in the hope that iPad mania will reverse their declines in paid circulation. From a long-term technical standpoint, Apple is betting on the superiority of HTML5 over Flash — despite the fact that the former is still a work in progress.

Both arguments provide cover for an unsustainable economic position: that a “gated community” approach is a much better means of capturing revenue (for Apple) than would be possible if more common Web paradigms were allowed.

The theory behind the iPad and its engaging applications is a positive one for publishers. The iPad itself may not be, especially if Apple ignores or exploits publishers in the process. Interactive engagement is the key to the success of both digital editions and their advertisers, and Flash — like it or not — makes such engagement possible. This is not lost on Apple’s rivals. Google Android and other smartphone/smartpad systems will undoubtedly use Flash to steal Apple’s thunder.

Adobe has made a sensible, albeit limited move to accommodate Apple’s alluring gadgets. In response — and in its own long-term interests — Apple should respond in kind. In addition to leveraging vast quantities of existing content, a Flashy iPad would meet the needs of a greater number of publishers and advertisers — drawing their support away from the competition.

Granting Flash full citizenship in the iPhone/iPad nation is a more sustainable choice for Apple, even if HTML5 is the better solution down the road.

John Parsons (originally published in Publishing Executive,; re-posted with permission)

How to Create a “Smart Ad”

Almost everyone agrees: digital editions are beginning to transcend the “flip book” metaphor. Major players are beginning to create products that are not just digital facsimiles: adding true interactivity while preserving the intrinsic value of the well-designed page. With all the hyperbole surrounding the iPad — and the next generation of e‑readable media in general — publishers and developers are beginning to decide what their new medium may look like.

For editorial content, inserting videos, Flash animations and data mashups usually top the list of cross-media additions to traditional text and graphics. This creates a potential for true interactive engagement with the reader — at a price. The business case for creating compelling, integrated cross-media content is far from easy or straightforward. We can expect to see plenty of ill-conceived junk as content creators struggle with multi-channel stories.

For e-reader ads, the challenge is even greater. A good “e-Ad” must be a creative, well-designed blend of text, illustration, video and sound. It must also relate well to its editorial context — AND it must generate a positive, measurable response, without being overly intrusive. To manually create such rich, multi-faceted advertising will be costly. If history is any guide, we can expect to see a proliferation of pushy, intrusive ads that will be largely ignored and resented.

So, as the new generation of e-readers emerges, how can advertisers distinguish their electronic offerings from the expected wave of obnoxious, pop-up-like ads (without going broke)? To begin with, we must abandon the mindset that a “digital ad” for magazines or newspapers is just a regular ad that moves or makes noises. We’ve had those for years; they’re known as TV spots. E-readers have indeed become a new screen for televised media, but their real advertising strength is not visual candy, but their ability to find and use data.

Think about it. E-readers, including the iPad, are networked computing devices, with potential access to vast amounts of data of all types, both public and intensely private. A well-designed (and yes, visually appealing) e-Ad should ultimately be useful in gathering specific data. Based on unique user requests, it should present the reader with a range of purchase decisions that he or she actually requested. Editorial context is the key.

For example, a travel magazine article could have e-Ads (i.e., applications) that let the reader customize or vary the route, identify places to stay or buy stuff, and even download GPS instructions. The publisher or agency would have to sell the ad to a diverse range of advertisers, and live with the idea that non-advertisers may receive some benefit. The point is that the reader’s access to data is the primary attraction — upon which commercial value can be built.

Another necessary change may be the abolition of traditional media distinctions. E-Ads may be well suited to the medium we think of as “books” — not just that of “magazines” or “newspapers.” The potential to locate context appropriate data — from lists of resources to social media connections to just about anything else — should make us think of the financial potential of these things we presently call “ads.” Whatever we end up calling this medium for informed commerce, the art and science of creating these innovations will be the next big thing.

John Parsons ( is an independent analyst and consultant, currently working on a new in-depth study, Going Digital: Emerging Trends in Digital Magazine and Newspaper Publishing. He is the former Editorial Director of The Seybold Report.

A Mini-Review of the Apple iPad (Publishers and Advertisers Take Note)

Like many of my fellow analysts, I was suitably impressed by the first accounts of the iPad introduced on Wednesday to an adoring crowd of Apple followers. Without the benefit of the actual device, a formal review is not possible. However, for the benefit of magazine, newspaper and other media publishers, a mini-review is in order.

On the hardware side, the iPad resembles an oversized iPhone. It was built around Apple’s own A4 processor, designed to prolong battery life. It has a 9.7-inch backlit LED touchscreen and a dock connector (for recharging and a host of potential USB add-ons, including a physical keyboard). It can have between 16 and 64 gigabytes of flash memory, plus a SIM card tray on some models. Networking includes 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth (standard) as well as 3G mobile network cabability on higher-end models.

The software applications shown at the launch covered a wide gamut, including browsing, email, calendar, presentations, basic word processing and spreadsheets, photo sharing and, of course, a wide range of media experiences. Video and audio media on the iPad are simply extensions of the iPhone/iPod paradigm. The book-publishing universe (particularly Amazon) will be heavily impacted by Apple’s decision to offer books in standard ePub format, although DRM, pricing and title selection questions remain. Magazine digital editions were not shown, but an iPad version of The New York Times — similar to its AIR-based Times Reader — offered a glimpse (barely) of the platform’s potential for newspapers.

Pricing begins at $499 for the base model, available in March. The higher-end 3G models will cost up to $829, and will be available in April. AT&T will continue as Apple’s 3G mobile network provider, despite recent service-related complaints in New York and other high-usage regions.

The iPad will use the iPhone operating system, not Mac OSX. This will disappoint Mac users looking for an easy replacement for their laptop and its applications. It does mean, however, that the iPad will run iPhone apps — over 140,000 by Apple’s count. This decision, combined with the physical dimensions and ergonomics of the iPad, is potentially great news for paginated media publishers (magazines and newspapers) and their advertisers. Let me explain:

The idea of using “pages” should not be dismissed as a relic of the print age. A page is simply a deliberate arrangement of text, images and other components — all designed to catch and hold one’s attention, and to convey a story or idea. Media such as magazines or newspapers can be a rich combination of compelling stories (narrative and commercial) for which a page, or series of pages, is the ideal vehicle. Whether the pages are printed or not is irrelevant. The key is sequential engagement — something that paginated media has succeeded at for decades. What the iPad makes possible is the addition of interactivity and relational engagement to the proven page approach.

Digital editions of magazines and newspapers are only beginning to tap the potential for combining sequential and relational engagement. (An upcoming Beacon study, Going Digital: Emerging Trends in Digital Magazine and Newspaper Publishing, will address this trend in detail.) The iPad and its potential applications for paginated media will only accelerate the process.

Publishers will make their share of mistakes in creating interactive pages for the iPad. As with other disruptive technologies (remember desktop publishing?) the ability to add new page elements includes the possibility of doing so foolishly. We should expect a host of poorly conceived digital edition apps, as we learn to design our e-pages. Out of that chaos will emerge new expertise, as successful publishers and advertisers build compelling e-publications worthy of this intriguing new platform. — John Parsons

John Parsons is the principle of Byte Media Strategies ( and the former Editorial Director of The Seybold Report. He is currently working with Steve Paxhia of Beacon Digital Strategies on a research study on digital editions for magazine and newspaper publishing, to be published in June. He may be contacted at This review ©2010 by Byte Media Strategies LLC. Published with permission.

D’oh! Predicted the iPad name, but can’t prove it…

As the faithful gathered before His Steveness at the iPad event, I was reminded of Apple’s marketing brilliance. The tablet rumors were well managed, with plausibly deniable leaks to the fans, media and stock analysts. Speculation built up to a suitably high level of excitement  (or anxiety) among publishers, software developers and e-reader rivals. And, as usual, Jobs delivered the demo in classic style.

The device itself opens many new opportunities for publishers and advertisers — which I’ll be discussing at length in an upcoming study on digital editions. I regret not having publicly discussed my prediction of the iPad name, so my bragging rights will have to be limited to a few colleagues and my (thankfully) tolerant family. Bragging aside, however, the iPad is a game-changer.

In the upcoming study, I’ll be discussing the value of paginated media. In the e-reader world, pages should not be mere fascimiles of their printed counterparts. They should be well-designed, functional “idea containers” for creating what I call sequential engagement. An e-page may add interactivity and new media components, but it should not abandon those qualities that made pages desirable in the first place. A truly functional e-reader — probably led by the iPad example — can provide the best of both worlds.

The Apple iPad will allow magazine, newspaper and other publishers to retain the intrinsic value of paginated media, while adding interactive and new media components not possible with print. The question is: can publishers and advertisers build products worthy of a truly functional reader platform?