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The New Face of Digital Editions

The definition of "digital magazine" continues to change.



By Vanessa Voltolina
12/22/2009

As publishers continue to seek out the newest and best technologies to enhance digital readership (and drive online revenue), a slew of advanced e-readers—such as the Apple tablet, Mag+ and an iPhone viewer for digital magazines—are redefining online editions.

Of course, new concepts and prototypes for what a digital magazine could look like have been popping up with relative frequency. And obviously, the ideas are a boon to the industry, since they mean publishers are looking beyond not only ink and paper, but the initial versions of digital mags (remember when digital editions were just replicas of print?).

A primary example is the Apple tablet, expected to launch in 2010, but not confirmed, which will look like an oversized iPod Touch that touts a color touch screen where users can listen to music and view movies, the Web and apps. Earlier this month, Time Inc. and The WonderFactory released a concept video for Sports Illustrated showing what the magazine might look like on one of these tablets.

The Sports Illustrated demo shows how the tablet would allow readers to organize the magazine by subject—in this case, by “baseball” or “football”—in addition to using a tool to circle photos and articles, and rearrange the order of the issue’s content. The tablet’s toolbar would let users engage in some of the standard digital edition functionality like e-mail an article, print it, view comments and related items, see relevant Twitter posts, or save the article to a favorites file.

For his part, Harry McCracken, Technologizer.com founder and editor, told FOLIOmag.com in his 2010 predictions that while it may take publishers some time to monetize it, the tablet could have great potential. “Apple will release a tablet, and it'll be a hit—maybe not an iPhone-level hit, but a much bigger deal than the Kindle or Nook,” he wrote. “At year's end, publishers will still be experimenting with how to leverage it (and other tablets) and won't be making much money, but everyone involved will agree that the potential is enormous.”

However, the tablet may come at a high price to consumers: past reports say it will cost between $700 and $900, positioning it between the iPhone/iPod Touch and Apple’s notebooks. Pricing aside, others in publishing aren’t as optimistic as McCracken when it comes to the tablet’s ubiquity.

F+W Media’s director of audience development, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, predicted that the Apple Tablet will be “more horse than unicorn, becoming a major player in portable gaming but with minimal impact on publishing.” While it may be a major player, it might not impact publishing the way we hope.

Previous to Sports Illustrated’s prototype, Condé Nast’s Wired also created a mockup of the tablet versions of their print editions.

iPhone Versions for Digital Editions
While some digital magazine technologies are still conceptual, a very real technology from Advanced Publishing Corporation, a provider of digital edition and digital delivery solutions, is an iPhone viewer. Recently launched, the viewer automatically "detects" the digital magazine using a single URL, with no app download necessary. It includes live e-mail and Web site links on ads (and within the content); a full issue search with color highlighting; and video added to any page of the iPhone digital magazine. Along with rich multimedia for users, Advanced Publishing’s service will report user metrics for publishers.

Its initial iPhone viewer beta version has just been launched with the January 2010 issue of Illinois Realtor. (Advanced plans to roll out to existing customers over the next few weeks.)

Mary Schaefer, director of communications for Illinois Association of Realtors and editor of Illinois Realtor said that the magazine made this service "available in last week or so to our 50,000 members. It was a response to our members' needs, since the nature of the realty business is mobile and always on the go," she added.

Illinois Realtor promoted the issue by sending an e-mail to its members, as well as made video available for viewing throughout the magazine. “If you scroll, there is a box on the digital magazine page that you can click on to play the video,” Schaefer said. “If you have an iPhone, you can play it and watch.”

Even though the “technology is really geared toward iPhones, Advanced Publishing is working on it for the Blackberry,” Schaefer added. Advanced Publishing CEO Trish Connolly confirmed this in a release, saying that the “Blackberry version will be the industry's first full color digital magazine—also offering publishers the opportunity to add video to their Blackberry digital magazine.”

Schaefer said the association plans to bring its print magazine down from 6x annually to quarterly in 2010. They will also use Advanced’s digital edition iPhone version to calculate digital edition open rates in 2010, and if digital proves to be more popular will considering going digital-only in 2011.

Next Generation e-Readers
Newest to the scene, though, is publisher Bonnier Corp.’s collaboration with London-based design studio BERG. They've developed a video prototype, Mag+, published on a new Bonnier R&D Beta Lab page, to spark a discussion around the digital reading experience in general—digital platforms specifically. It shows how magazines like Bonnier's Popular Science can be reformatted for a handheld Kindle-sized touch screen.

What makes Mag+ different from the tablet and other prototypes is its vertical scroll reading that's standard on the Web, and flipping horizontally when browsing for photos. With Mag+ in development now, San Francisco Interaction design firm plans to create a physical prototype of Mag+ in the next several months.

"We have created a digital magazine that has a 'silent mode' for passive and relaxing reading, only when the reader actively choses to get involve and 'rubb' the magazine it gets heated up, interactive and social," Sara Ă–hrvall, senior vice president of research & development for Bonnier, told DEI. "We are trying to curate content, to tell a story that has a beginning and an end. We know people feel overwhelmed by all choices and the endlessness of the Web, so we created a simple, linear flow. For the same reason, our prototype is easier to overview, and gives an immediate understanding of the content."

By Vanessa Voltolina
12/22/2009







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