November 19, 2013 Last Updated 8:19 am

Tablet Publishing magazine: the story behind the app

The trials and tribulations of any magazine launch are probably worth writing a book about. It’s really too bad most publishers don’t bother to tell their stories. We’ll tell ours…

Tablet Publishing magazine, our new single issue app, was born out of the idea behind TNM Digital Media.

In the late spring of this year a decision was made to relaunch TNM as part of a more organized and thought-through publishing effort. Two and half years of publishing digital publishing news had led to many new contacts with publishing professionals around the world.

Guide-EarlyDesign-lgSo the idea was that maybe we could create digital publishing projects – eBooks and digital magazines – that would be a collaboration between myself and another publishing pro.

Of the laundry list of possibly projects, one was to create a single issue magazine app that would contain a guide to digital publishing platforms – sort of a buyers guide in the old sense, but this time interactive.

The first, and it turns out only, person I mentioned this to was Konstantinos Antonopoulos, a designer and infographic wizard from Athens, Greece. Konstantinos was a long time TMN reader, one I was lucky to meet in-person last year when in Greece. Konstantinos loved the idea and immediately began coming up with ideas for how we would do this.

The first thing we agreed on was that this would be a single issue app. Neither of us were in a position to start working on a regularly appearing new magazine – Konstantinos was busy with work from Lambrakis Press and other projects, and I had TNM and several new eBook projects.

The concluding column by Konstantinos inside the app – which I assume, dear reader, that you will download today – starts like this:

Until the end, its working name was “The Guide”. Caps and all.

Mentioned in emails, referred to in Skype talks, it was the code name for a serious, gigantic project. A project that neither we or anyone else had thought to try in the past.

The Guide was something we could talk about informally, plan on, but at least until the late summer had not started to work on.

Then came a rather fateful accident.

I came up with a crude, and rather unprofessional looking list of questions we would ask the digital publishing platform companies. One day, in late July, I sent the list of questions to Jochem Wijnands of TRVL, he and Michel Elings who were about to launch their own platform Prss. (Coincidentally, two new magazine apps were released today that use the new platform.)

“Can you think of anything missing from this list?” I asked.

Jochem passed the list of questions on to Michel who dutifully completed the questionnaire and suddenly we had our first company for the Guide.

For a good portion of the summer and the best part of autumn, it was what we woke up to, went to bed with, stood at our desktops as we powered up our Macs in the mornings, and came to haunt our dreams at night. This Guide, the work of just two people. Planted in between our busy daily schedules, thrown in as an extra load of work on that gigantic “to do” pile of our daily professional lives… – Konstantinos Antonopoulos, from closing column

And so were were off and running. Next we needed to send the survey form to other companies, to create a good database of these companies so we could track who we had sent the form to, who we needed to follow-up with. Actually “we” is “me. That was my job. Konstantinos’s job was design and he immediately started creating mock-up using Adobe Illustrator, his tool of choice. The first design, seen above, was very promising. But using that design for all the companies, and with the information and materials we would receive, would be the challenge.

Konstantinos eventually created a much more austere and plain look. It may have worked better for him, but I think he knew we hadn’t nailed it yet. But eventually, with some color, and some font changes, we had the look and feel of the Guide.

The digital magazine could have simply been the Guide only, but I felt we needed editorial material, as well, My first thought was repurposing posts from Talking New Media. After all, this would be a project only involving a handful of companies. But slowly the forms started to come back and it appeared we would get more than the minimum 20 companies I felt we needed to do the project. We probably end up with 25 to 30, maybe more (we ended up with 45, though one was dropped because they were too early on to properly answer the questions and provide app examples).

Once it became apparent that the Guide would contain so many companies our ambition increased concerning editorial. Yes, I could come up with an article or two, but we needed outside contributors – and, sadly, we could not pay them. I hate that. But Jeanniey Mullen, Paul Conley and Howard Polskin came through for us. Then the team at Chitika and the AAM did, as well (and we thank all of them).

As someone who who has launched several magazines, my first while I was at McGraw-Hill, nothing is quite as exciting as trying to design the perfect new magazine: what will it need, what departments should be in it, etc. With our contributors we were able to offer a wider range of editorial topics which we hoped would appeal to digital publishing pros.

InstructionsPg-lgOur hope was that we could complete the project and get it into the Apple App Store by mid-October. But I suppose I forgot – or didn’t calculate – all the work that would need to be done… by Konstantinos, that is. (Meanwhile, Konstantinos had been recruited by Al Jazeera and so would be leaving soon for Doha.)

Creating a print magazine from scratch is a snap in comparison to a new digital magazine. The number of examples and templates available for print are endless. But what if your goal is to show what the tablet platform can do for B2B publishers? What if you want to intentionally NOT mimic print?

Everything needed to be designed fresh, including the instruction page which has become de rigueur in digital magazines.

Then there was the cover.

The cover was the very last thing created. Tablet magazines tend to have flashy, animated covers, often with video content. We were not going to do that – this was supposed to be a B2B digital magazine, not Red Bulletin (not that there is anything wrong with Red Bulletin, mind you).

Eventually I went with my camera to the nearest bookstore – which is no longer very near. While at Barnes & Noble I took some shots hoping something would come out of it. Konstantinos saw the shots and picked the one who see used. Then he animated the cover. I think he did an excellent job, especially in just a few hours.

KAnt-smI think the real highlight of the issue are the infographics Konstantinos created – this is his specialty and why I have said a million times that The Washington Post should hire the guy. Some of the graphics were reworking of graphics created by Chitika – and they did a great job themselves. But Konstantinos wanted a uniform look and so he created his own.

All that was left was to launch the app, but that turned out to be a story in and of itself. Also, we think there is a strange little bug in the app, maybe you will discover it (sorry no prize for the first to point it out).

So, what did we accomplish and what didn’t we accomplish? I don’t really know. If no one downloads the app it will just be another of the thousands of apps that take up space inside the Apple App Store. If enough readers discover the app, if enough of the 45-50 companies that I am aware of that did not participate complain and want in, maybe there will be an update, maybe a second issue.

But the app reinforces one thing that far too many publishers and media executives sometimes forget: that publishing is a collaborative art form. To publishing anything of value you need team members and contributors. Konstantinos and I thank everyone involved in the project. And I thank Konstantinos, without whom this project simply remains another idea.

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