Producing Content for Tablets and Apps
The process, so far, is relatively easy, but metrics will be key.
The growing swell of e-reader and tablet devices has reached deluge proportionsâ€”and if the population at large didnâ€™t know it, Appleâ€™s iPad debut will help mainstream the concept. Yet the platform is still very young, not yet driven by consumer preferences. Manufacturers and publishers alike are testing the waters even as the technology rapidly develops beyond what has already been released. In the meantime, publishers are working with whatever they can get their hands onâ€”as long as content production complexities donâ€™t get out of controlâ€”all while keeping a close eye on usage metrics.
The driving factor for early-adopter publishers is if these devices catch on with consumers they want to be there when it happens. Again, itâ€™s all about keeping up with the anywhere/anytime consumption privileges readers expect in a fractured media environment. â€śWeâ€™re fundamentally trying to make sure weâ€™re on all the devices that people use to consume this content,â€ť said Scott Havens, vice president of digital strategy and operations at The Atlantic. â€śWe donâ€™t want to guess whoâ€™s going to win or lose, we want to make sure you can read The Atlantic everywhere.â€ť
The Atlantic, which, said Havens, has about 10,000 readers of the magazine on the Kindle, recently started selling short fiction on the device as well. The magazine will also begin testing a paid model for blog content, too. Havens has also done deals with Plastic Logic, developer of the Que, Barnes & Nobleâ€™s Nook and the Sony Reader.
How the Content Gets Produced
Infrastructure is a potential pain point for publishers. Right now, the process of feeding content to e-reader and tablets involves setting up a feed to the provider. Havens set up an RSS XML feed for Amazon thatâ€™s built according to the retailerâ€™s specifications and files get pulled directly out of The Atlanticâ€™s CMS.
Other manufactures use a middleman to reformat PDFs into a proprietary format. Sony and Barnes & Noble, for example, use an outfit called LibreDigital for file conversion. There is no fee to the publisher, said Havens. The device manufactures pick up the tab.
While this might sound straightforward, there is no common file format among the devices, which makes publishers nervousâ€”even as theyâ€™re eager to sign up with whatever device comes their way. For now, this is solved by shipping hi-res PDFs. â€śMost of the partners we deal with use a third-party that does the more challenging production work,â€ť said Stephan Scherzer, EVP and GM for IDGâ€™s PCWorld and Macworld group, who relies on his print production team to traffic the files. â€śI send them a hi-res version and they turn it into whatever format they need. As long as we just need to send out PDFs Iâ€™ll adopt as many platforms as possible. This could scale, but it will only make sense if we donâ€™t have to do a lot of customization.â€ť
Gil Fuchsberg, president of Skiff, which has developed its own platform and device technology, said that well-formed XML will put the publisher ahead of the game, but PDFs work well too. The company works directly with the publisher to create a format and layout that can range from a straight rip from a PDF to a more hands-on approach. â€śWeâ€™re marrying the digital assets with a set of design goals that are agreed on and driven by the publisher. So, thereâ€™s some flexibility. We want to make it easy to participate, so we have a turnkey approach and there are others where they can get more involved.â€ť
Thereâ€™s an App for That
In the meantime, publishers have also been porting a growing supply of content as apps to Appleâ€™s iPhone platform, all of which will be readable on the companyâ€™s new iPad tablet. Publishers will nevertheless be working to upgrade their content to take advantage of the iPadâ€™s larger 9.7-inch touch screen and interactivity.
Conde Nast is a bit ahead of the game after debuting a full issue of GQ last November. The December issue was downloaded just over 6,000 times, and the January issue was double that. The apps cost $2.99, but usage metrics appear very promising.
A Conde Nast spokesperson said readers averaged 83 minutes with the apps, which is remarkably highâ€”higher even than the 73 minutes MRI measures for the print edition.
A spokesperson said the 83-minute average was pulled from actual metrics, not from a survey-based method.
Yet digital edition providers such as Nxtbook Media, which have already had iPhone reader applications available, are seeing much different usage metrics.
Marcus Grimm, marketing director for Nxtbook, said iPhone users spend the most time with digital editionsâ€”more than three and a half minutes. â€śBlackberry readers were next a just over two and a half minutes,â€ť he said in an email to FOLIO:.
From there, the number of pages viewed varies widely, said Grimm. Factors that influence those metrics include how often the publisher markets the content and what percentage of its audience is on one of these devices. â€śThe single best performing title I found was one that has received seven percent of their page views from mobile devices since November of last year,â€ť he said. â€śThis is a publisher who receives about 3,000-5,000 digital magazine readers per issue. We would expect this number to grow quite a bit in the [coming] months.â€ť