Each publisher has approached tablets at its own pace, with its own purpose. The result has left a scattered set of protocols across the industry.
The International Digital Enterprise Alliance (IDEAlliance), an association serving players across the digital media supply chain, is attempting to simplify the process of tablet issue production by eliminating many of the competing formats and workflows. The goal is an industry standard called OpenEFT—guidelines to direct the packaging, delivery and display of digital magazines for everyone in the ecosystem. OpenEFT’s final draft was unveiled late last month.
“We, as publishers, would like to be able to provide a designed-for-tablet, interactive edition to all the newsstands,” says Sean Keefe, executive director of publishing technology for Hearst Magazines. “But right now, not all of them take the same file formats.”
The benefits for publishers are two-fold. Tablet issue production would become a more efficient process, while the barriers to third-party innovation would be lowered.
Tablet issue production can be convoluted now. Hearst currently produces up to three formats (and several variants) of its magazines, depending on the brand and the newsstand they’re working with; Next Issue Media, a digital newsstand, is forced to adapt about six formats for its storefront. Many of those conversions are labor intensive and require quality assurance testing at multiple points.
Ideally, says Keith Barraclough, CTO and vice president of products for Next Issue, the exchange of files would be simplified, QA would only be needed once and the process could be automated.
“Whether OpenEFT can do all this as it goes through its standardization process and tools and manufacturers come along and adopt, that’s all a big ‘TBD,’” he says. “But that’s the nirvana we’re looking for.”
An open specification already exists, called ePub, but it was built to handle books, not magazines.
“The orientation toward imagery, layout and the subtlety of the navigation of a magazine is something that’s evolved more,” Barraclough says.
While Dianne Kennedy, vice president of emerging technologies for IDEAlliance, says OpenEFT is closely modeled after ePub, she adds that the need for tablet-optimized ad units is another major reason the book-centric format needed to be tweaked for digital magazines.
Magazine staff have to manipulate the units from the agency, often without being exactly sure of how the final product was supposed to render. The costs and confusion make their use rare.
“Magazines, unlike books, rely a lot on the ad model,” Kennedy says. “There is no specification for the exchange and rendering of this interactive content, so the magazines have been limiting the number of interactive ads they will accept.”
Regardless of how or why they started with tablet editions, publishers will agree that improving production efficiency is beneficial.
Now, it’s up to them to adopt the standard.