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Mike Haney

Moving Beyond Megabytes

Mike Haney Digital Editions - 03/22/2012-10:32 AM

There’s been a lot of chatter on the Web this past week about the impact the new iPad (with its retina display and four times the pixels) might have on digital publications like those created on Mag+ or Adobe DPS, which render most of the content as images to present a pixel-perfect design experience, since this approach creates “large” files.

There’s no question that higher resolution images take more space, but in tests with our plug-ins, we’re seeing closer to a 2x or less increase. And since most of our issues are 150-200mb, we’re only talking about retina issues of around 300-400mb—smaller than many non-retina magazines and far smaller than, say, a half hour of TV.

That last comparison is, I think, an apt one. Because while no one likes to sit around and wait for a file to download, far more important than the physical size is what that file offers. In other words, it’s not about megabytes, it’s about value.

"The Walking Dead" is the top selling TV show on iTunes. The HD version is not only more expensive than the SD version, it’s 2.5x the file size: 1.8GB for a 62-minute show. Try keeping a whole season of that on your 16GB iPad. We’ve seen in surveys that more than 40 percent of digital subscribers spend 60 minutes or more with an issue (80 percent spend 30 minutes or more). One of the most successful apps of 2010 was the book “The Elements” from Theo Gray (a PopSci columnist), which cost $13.99 and takes 1.7GB of space. What’s an hour of a great experience worth in bytes?

And I think it’s important to remember that great experience matters in this space, especially if you expect people to pay for your app. The iPad (and certainly the retina iPad) is a vessel for premium content, and you’re not just competing against other magazines here—you’re competing against games, TV shows, 200,000 other apps and the Web. If you don’t offer a packaging and presentation of your content that wows people, it won’t matter if your magazine is 50mb or 500mb; people will find something better to buy and spend time with.

A real-world example: Popular Photography+ is indisputably a niche publication for camera and photo geeks. Most of the information that’s in it you could find on the Web—there are no shortage of photography and camera-review sites. And yet, PopPhoto has 30,000+ paid digital subscribers on the iPad—that’s 10 percent of its total rate base—and is adding hundreds more every month. And its digital business has been profitable for a long time. People are finding value in a curated experience optimized for that canvas and the magazine is making a real business from it.

That’s an indication that premium curated content has an audience here, but it represents only a tiny slice of what’s possible. For instance, why not instead of just delivering "Walking Dead" as a video file, make it an “issue.” In it, you could have interviews with the actors, slideshows of behind the scenes photos, an interactive game, a live feed of news from the show AND the actual episode itself, playable in full-screen and over AirPlay. And because it’s a “publication,” you could subscribe to it! The total file size would be 1.82GB and it would probably see more downloads than any single issue or a magazine.

The retina iPad, with its print-like resolution and rich backlit color is giving an industry whose value proposition is built on beautiful imagery, careful design and readable text the most amazing platform it’s ever had for all of those things. Its introduction should not be a cause for fretting about the death of an experiment that’s just begun on the altar of file size, but a moment to ask ourselves: what are we doing with it?

Mike Haney is the chief content officer for tablet solution provider Mag+.

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