Creative Cloud Edges Forward

When Adobe moved away from the traditional shrink-wrap software model with Creative Cloud, one of the promises was that updates—incremental and otherwise—would be more frequent. The frustrating wait for the next version release, and the speculation about whether desired features would be added or not, would be replaced by a more benign, less hype-filled process.

Today’s announcement has confirmed that trend. Creative Cloud subscribers—all 1.4 million of them by Adobe’s count—will receive some significant feature updates, along with relatively minor improvements that, taken as a whole, continue to improve the design and production experience. (Caveat: The announcement also marks Adobe’s entry into 3D printing, but this review will focus primarily on issues of interest to publishers.)

To be sure, Adobe has had to weather the revenue transition—away from selling disc-based Creative Suite packages and towards a subscription model.* However, as I predicted over a decade ago in The Seybold Report, the service-based model is infinitely more sustainable, and better for the graphic arts community as a whole.

According to Adobe, there have been around 50 “feature-bearing” updates since Creative Cloud’s inception, comprising about 500 new features. While some of these have been relatively minor, others certainly have not, including the single edition DPS license for creating iPad apps.

Feature Overview

For magazine and business publishers, today’s update contains some cost-saving new features. Muse, Adobe’s highly-intuitive Web design environment, now directly supports HTML animations created in Adobe Edge. These animations can now be stored and re-used—and even shared with other users via a free online exchange. (There is currently no way to sell these resources, or even obtain customer information as part of the download.) Muse has also automated social links, letting website creators simply drag-and-drop a widget to specify a Facebook page or a Twitter feed to be used on the site.

Improvements to Photoshop are mainly for designers, but production workers will appreciate the addition of linked smart objects—items copied from Illustrator or Photoshop that can be used multiple times and changed globally. (This has been standard fare for InDesign, using the links feature, for some time.)

Illustrator received some long-awaited new features aimed at designers, including “live corners” (the ability to easily specify the roundness of any object corner) and a much improved pencil tool. Also in the time-saving category is Illustrator’s new ability to customize the toolbox—a godsend for a complex, mega-multi-tool program. Customized toolboxes can be made part of a custom workspace and, presumably, shared with other users.

Both Illustrator and InDesign are now tightly integrated with Typekit, which offers over 900 fonts as part of a Creative Cloud license. Users can search for Typekit fonts from within the program, rather than switch to a browser. Selected fonts are downloaded as desktop and/or Web fonts, and can be used in non-Adobe applications.

InDesign itself has been improved in one very important aspect—at least for publishers of interactive content. Hyperlink creation, once a source of extreme frustration, is now remarkably easy. Users can create URLs automatically from selected text, and can easily re-use those hyperlinks elsewhere in the publication. Hyperlink tracking is not only more intuitive, it is also “live,” so long as the InDesign user is connected to the Internet. If a created hyperlink does not resolve to a valid URL, a red warning icon appears. This warning is regrettably not part of InDesign’s live preflight, but it is still a welcome respite for those creating interactive PDFs, tablet apps, or e-books.

On the subject of e-books, InDesign CC now supports EPUB3’s pop-up footnote convention which, alas, is not supported universally by all e-reading devices. It also supports right-to-left languages like Japanese and Hebrew.

The Bottom Line

Those who create and publish content in a multimedia environment will appreciate many of the changes announced today. The thrill of waiting for “the next big release” may be diminished, but so is the stress of worrying if a particular feature will make the cut. This is a solid, albeit not earth-shattering improvement.

Only time will tell whether Adobe’s new model will remain an agile one—adding publishing-essential features incrementally but with shorter wait times. However, since publishers today are less likely to be among Geoffrey Moore’s 16% group of early adopters and innovators, the steady, more predictable subscription model is the right one.


*  Technically, Creative Cloud is not a true cloud service, like Google Docs, but a members-only online download, installation, and periodic verification process for traditional computer software. Adobe applications are simply too large and complex to be used in a client-server fashion.

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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 (http://bit.ly/Rjz90j) 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.

The Rocky Road from Print Books to E-Books

My work with long-time colleague Steve Paxhia on the BISG Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading study has often led us into a more-or-less friendly debate over the future of printed books. With some of that debate about to appear in Book Business magazine, I thought I’d add a brief account of my attempt to convert one of my old favorites from mass market paperback to e-book format. It was not easy — and the process raised some interesting questions. Way Station, by Clifford D. Simak

First off, I should confess that I have a weakness for 1950s and 1960s science fiction — from classic authors like Heinlein and Asimov to guilty pleasure works like the Lensman series. Since I re-read many of these from time to time, it follows that I have a large stash of mass market paperbacks taking up space and causing problems whenever I move.

In our debate, I lamented the fact that I could not easily convert these artifacts (mostly low-quality print) into e-book format, similar to the way I converted my legally purchased vinyl and CD albums into MP3s. Many of these titles are not available as e-books, and even if they were, I dislike the idea of buying the same thing twice.

My colleague pointed out that there are services, like 1DollarScan that will do the job for very little cost. Intrigued, I ran a test on a book I was willing to sacrifice. (Typically, you don’t get the printed book back after scanning; they recycle it.)
1DollarScan results

Working with 1DollarScan

The process was pretty simple. I selected the number of 100-page “sets” in the book — for which they charge $1 each — and options like OCR (which I chose) and direct shipment from Amazon (which I did not). This meant $6 for a 230-page book, to which I added book rate mailing and the cost of a padded envelope, bringing the total to around $8.50. This is roughly what a backlist e-book costs these days. However, my book wasn’t available in e-book format, and I was doing a test anyway, so I thought  what the hell.

After waiting for the book to arrive and be processed, I was duly notified, and downloaded the resulting PDF file. It was quite large (142MB), including the scanned images for each page and imbedded OCR data. (More on that later.) There were also several free “Fine Tuning” options for common e-reading devices. These reduced the file sizes considerably, and adjusted page margins to match the intended device screen size. These could be “side loaded” into some connected e-readers, but could not be emailed, because the file size was still too big.

OCR BluesSample OCR results

When I copied the OCR text in Acrobat and pasted it into Word, the results were abysmal (right). Granted, I did not choose the High Quality OCR option (for an additional $6), but since the object was to keep the price reasonable, there was no incentive to do this. (Even if the better OCR option had resulted in better data, I would have had to copy and paste each page’s worth, and done some formatting tricks to create a true EPUB file.)

Pages, not E-Pages

The whole point of the EPUB format is reflowable, resizeable text, which can be easily read on almost any portable device — or even on multiple devices. For trade publishing, it’s just about perfect. The problem with 1DollarScan’s solution is that it creates static pages — literally replicas of the printed work — not real e-books. I’ve lost my physical copy of Simak’s novel, and in its place received a bulky, inconvenient PDF file. (Also, the copyright issue is a little sketchy. 1DollarScan users must agree to a “fair use” arrangement, which I’m not sure would survive a court test.)

So, What’s the Answer?

On occasion, I have purchased e-book versions of books I already own in print, but enjoy re-reading — or would like to lend to friends or family members. If my physical copy is a mass market paperback, I gladly recycle or donate it to Goodwill. Almost always, these are backlist books, with relatively low e-book price points. However, because that price is still higher than a used paperback, I don’t do this very often.

Publishers already have the rights to the words that make up books — printed or digital. In fact, with few exceptions, all modern books are already digital! Formatting them as e-books is not rocket science. Why not do this more often for backlist collections?

Rather than scan my old books, I would much rather trade them in, as it were, for the convenience of EPUB. Would it kill publishers to offer price incentives for backlist e-books to those who owned — and were willing to give up — their printed copies? Because it would be limited to titles that generate little or no revenue now, it’s potentially “found money” for publishers — from book lovers who are more likely to buy new e-books from publishers who meet their needs.

It would certainly give me an incentive to buy more e-books. After my disappointing experience with 1DollarScan, I renewed my search for Simak’s work. Alas, I still could not find Way Station, but I did locate (and purchase) a collection of Simak short stories on the Sony e-book store. However, if I ever want to re-read Way Station, I’ll probably buy another paperback.

And Away We Go…

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged with this account, but I have not been idle. Until recently, I’ve had the privilege of blogging for Nimbleware Consulting and PrintUI, writing articles for several magazines, doing research work for BISG, Library Journal, plus many other writing and editing projects. A new client has ask me to start blogging here once more, so stay tuned.

What Is “Interactive” Anyway? (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog, I lamented the lack of consensus on what constitutes effective interactivity for digital magazines. Since then, I had the opportunity to ask more questions during my Gilbane Boston panel session on Mobile App development “from the trenches.” The panelists represented both business and consumer titles.

The real question, it turns out, is less about embedded multimedia than it is about personalization, relevance and immediacy of content. For magazines, interactivity has always been about connection with the story; digital media has merely made that connection more complex, raising new technical and economic challenges for publishers.

The Gilbane panelists each discussed the pros and cons of developing interactive content. They praised the new, tablet-friendly design tools from Adobe (Digital Publishing Suite), Zinio, WoodWing and others — recently augmented by the QuarkXPress 9 announcement. They also expressed concern over rising costs (designing for multiple screen layouts, video production, etc.) vs. the unknown circulation and advertising benefits on a new, untried platform. Beyond that, however, they each expressed the notion that embedded media alone was not the answer.

Geoff Shaw of The Sporting News discussed their recent tablet app, The Sporting News Daily. Video and photo gallery embedding are standard fare, although user-generated content is limited by NFL and other content policies. Social media tie-ins are also prevalent. (Commenting has had to be curtailed to avoid endless “Yankees suck! No, Red Sox suck!” exchanges.) Beyond that, however, what has proven more successful is the delivery of time-sensitive, magazine-quality content to readers. Readers want the depth of storytelling that magazines offer, but they also want immediate gratification. While RSS and Web feeds can provide the latest scores, Shaw feels that a digital magazine edition can provide such data in a more satisfying, engaging manner — quality as well as quantity.

The next stage, according to Shaw, is to customize content still further — according to individual user preferences for particular sports, teams or players. Interactivity at that level would mirror the Daily Me concept theorized years ago by the MIT Media Lab. Difficulties still abound, not the least of which are privacy concerns and the reluctance of readers to even create such profiles. Nevertheless, Shaw feels that the model holds promise for truly interactive magazines.

Automation and XML were cited as cornerstones of cost-effective interactivity. Shaw envisioned a data-to-template workflow that would be essential as more tablets with differing screen sizes are introduced. Another panelist described the use of a centralized XML repository of content, from which users could customize their own content, whether viewed on a device or even printed on demand. Needless to say, publishers will need to get creative with content licensing before this model can extend beyond a single title.

Paul Michelman of the Harvard Business Review summarized the interactivity dilemma nicely. While rich media and customization can certainly boost reader engagement, through “nonlinear storytelling,” the idea of an enhanced magazine is too often constrained by arcane circulation rules and publishing norms — not to mention unproven revenue models. While social media tie-ins are intriguing, there are no guarantees that their use will create the same lasting engagement that good writing and design has done in the past. To make things worse, technology is outpacing consumers’ ability to use it well — or predictably.

In short, true interactivity in a digital magazine is hard. However, as Michelman noted, we need to do it anyway.

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

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 (http://www.bisg.org/publications/product.php?p=19&c=437). 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 (john@bytemedianews.com)

 

What Is “Interactive” Anyway? (Part 1)

As publishers go through the five stages of grief over dying media, I’m struck by the bargaining phase. For many, it consists of attempts to insert interactive components into their digital editions, hoping to strike a deal with advertisers headed for the door. “Just wait. Your ad will be next to a video that everyone will be watching.” As new systems and e-readers proliferate, we seem to think that magazines will magically revive once we figure out how to make static content interactive.

This belief begs the question: What does it mean for a magazine to be interactive? Technically, embedding a Web link in a digital edition qualifies, but the result is rarely satisfying — especially on a small-screen device, or over limited bandwidth. Email or phone links fare better, but are intrinsically boring, and subject to platform limitations. (A phone link that works on a smartphone may fail on a tablet or Flash-based applet.) That leaves most publishers with the standard alternatives: galleries, audio and video.

Photo galleries are making the transition from Web to digital editions without much fanfare — but also without substantially raising the fortunes of magazines. Conventional rights and usage limitations have restricted the potential for legal image sharing, via an iTunes-like sales mechanism. There is lots of unmet potential here, on both the editorial and advertising side of things.

Audio and video seem to be what most publishers mean when they use the word interactive. Entertainment titles would seem to have the edge here, since they already have tracks and footage to insert. Few other magazines have such resources, however. As a result, we’re seeing some truly terrible media inserted into editorial and advertising e-pages, mainly because it’s possible.

Keep in mind: there are already strong media venues for audio and video; let’s call one “TV,” just for fun. Most of them are preferable to listening and watching inside a digital edition. As bandwidth improves, the video experience in a digital edition—and on mobile devices in genera l— will also improve. But the video medium itself is not intrinsic to the magazine oeuvre, and so will not automatically draw new subscribers or advertisers.

There are exceptions, like the live Webcast of a satellite launch carried exclusively in the digital edition of Via Satellite magazine. (The advertiser bought a special supplement designed around the Kazakhstan event, which was replayed when you viewed the publication post-launch.) However, in many cases audio and video only work as shorter clips, promoting the real thing on another medium.

A lot of CG animation and even gaming interactivity has emerged recently, creating big splashes for some publications. Beyond the initial wow factor, however, these raise serious concerns for magazines. As with audio and video, there are better venues and bigger budgets for CG. Making a really cool 3D animated magazine feature might be possible once or twice, but what do you do every month after that, and at what cost?

The real answers to the question of interactivity — and whether it can really save magazines — are inherent in the medium itself. “It’s a magazine, stupid,” should be our watchword when someone says “interactive.” So, what does that mean? What are magazine-appropriate interactive features? Some already exist, sort of, while others are still glints in developers’ eyes. All will take time and money to implement – without guarantees.

Many of them, dear reader, will be discussed in my next blog.

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