Distribution channel or new publishing platform? Perspective often determines approach to digital editions
Are the new digital newsstands simply a new way to distribute old products? Or are digital devices as different from print, as television was from radio?
When discussing politics with a stranger, knowing what political party that person supports will immediately give you some idea of the person’s perspective, right? Similarly, in conversations with a publishing professional – whether they be with those in the newspaper, magazine or book publishing industries – when the topic of digital editions comes up the conversation will be influenced by whether the publishing pro sees the Apple Newsstand and the iPad, Amazon.com and the Kindle, as a new distribution channel for their print products, or a new publishing platform for producing new publications.
For those digital-only publishers the issue is pretty much moot: the iPad is both a new platform and a distribution channel. Without the App Store, without the iPad, they would not be considering launching their own magazine.
But major publishers, around the world, generally look at Apple’s Newsstand merely as a new way to distribute their print magazines. For publishers such as Mondaori, it explains why they have chosen to produce replica editions of their French magazines, complete with the front cover bar code still prominently displayed on the cover.
Many readers share the same perspective. Inside the French Apple App Store, reader reviews for the Mondadori apps are fairly mixed, but most complaints involve the fact that one needs to pay for the issues inside the app free app, such is the lure of free content in the digital era. Only a few readers complain about the lack of interactivity or the difficulty of reading a magazine designed for print on a mobile device.
In the U.S., readers who were early buyers of the iPad had high expectations of their digital editions, being generally more tech savvy. But as time went on, and the iPad gained greater market penetration, the readership for digital editions began to evolve. Today, the readership for digital editions is more diverse, with many readers simply wanting access to their favorite titles now that there local Borders or Barnes & Noble has been shuttered.
A recent conversation with a journalism student from the UK reinforces the idea that those coming up in the business today will look very differently at tablet publishing than many currently in the business. His position was that the PDF-based replica would go away soon, to be replaced with only native editions. I think he assumed that I would agree with him. Instead, I pointed out that many print publishers see the iPad as a way to distribute their print magazines, not as a new digital platform deserving a different approach to design, and so things were a bit more complicated he might think.
One point I did not have time to make was that there will always be a place for the replica edition as seeing a replica of a 100-year-old publication, seen exactly as the reader 100 years ago would have seen it, makes more sense then reformatting that publication – reformatting an old publication would be like colorizing an old movie.