July 11, 2014 Last Updated 8:34 am

New digital magazine uses the platform for some agitprop, but anonymity lessens the impact

Issued, from ThePrintLabs Ltd., is a new independent economics magazine which uses the Mag+ platform to produce its digital editions

Politics and art has probably always been intertwined – from the relationship between performer and master, to the ability of art to deliver a political message. The artist, who stands up in front of their audience when performing, lays bare their opinions and sentiments, risking whatever backlash there may be.

Issued-iPad-coverI’m reminded of this as I look at the new digital magazine from ThePrintLabs Ltd called Issued. Publishing, too, is intertwined with politics, and the new mediums of mobile and tablet publishing are no exception. Many of the most popular apps in the early days of the App Store were political in nature – and Drudge Report and TheBlaze from Glenn Beck remains in the Top Ten still today.

Issued is a new digital magazine that appears to be trying to be a vehicle for views from the opposite side of the political spectrum. Unfortunately, the impression the magazine gives off is that it being produced by a group of people too afraid to stand on the stage and be recognized. The new digital magazine contains no staff box, and although the authors of the stories are credited, the editors and publisher is not.

The digital magazine comes from ThePrintLabs Ltd. which is said to be a London-based digital publishing company. Whether it is or not only local residents will probably be able to tell for sure. A search of the Internet finds that those behind the company are Italian, and the misspellings and bad grammar contained in the magazine and on the website tell you English is not their first language (some TNM readers probably think the same thing about me).

But why the anonymity. It took me only a few minutes to figure out that ThePrintLabs was established by Stefano Gravelli, who is quite open about this on LinkedIn and elsewhere. But the company’s website is without names, as its this new magazine, which I find silly (and cowardly).

ThePrintLabs have released three digital magazines into the Apple Newsstand. It’s own magazine, the PrintLabs mag – lasted all of one issue before being abandoned. (ThePrintLabs own website also looks like it has not been updated as there have been no new blog posts since November 2012 and the Twitter feed shows no activity in two years.)

The one magazine issue inside starts off with a column by Stefano Garavelli, but he is not identified as the publisher anywhere in the very small magazine, which is really just an outlet for an interview with Noah Rosenberg, the founder and editor of Narratively.

Issued-iPad-articleBoth apps used the Mag+ platform to create their digital editions. the PrintLabs mag feels like an early experiment, with layouts that look more like the magazine Marco Arment launched, The Magazine, than most digital editions created using the InDesign plug-in solution. Issued looks like a product produced by designers a little more comfortable with the platform, with scrolling, overlaid text boxes, for instance (as seen at left).

ThePrintLabs other app is something altogether different. The app for Il Manifesto, an independent, left wing newspaper in Italy, is a native iPhone and iPad app that looks a bit like apps for The New York Times or The Guardian rather than the dull replica editions often found for European newspapers.

It is possible that the folks behind both Mag+ built apps are just experimenting with the platforms, refining their talents. But I still think they would be better off playing it straight and producing a digital magazine complete with staff box, ways of contacting the editor, and interacting with the authors. The views expressed in Issued are hardly radical (and even if they were, so what?) and trying to publish anonymously into the Apple Newsstand is futile since all one needs to do is track the developer account – then again, maybe they aren’t trying to be anonymous and consider the developer name enough identification for readers (in that case, I would simply disagree).

One thing Apple could do to improve its Newsstand is add two requirements to their developer guidelines: first, all digital publications should be required to have a space devoted to being able to identify and communicate with the publisher, this is standard for print publications going through the US Postal Service, so requiring this would not be a burden for any legitimate publisher; second, any new digital publication should be prevented from offering annual subscriptions until they have proved they can actually produce a year’s worth of titles, this would save Apple to need to refund dissatisfied readers who have bought annual subscriptions only to discover that the publisher has given up after one issue.

These two changes would greatly increase reader’s faith in the Apple Newsstand as a safe place to buy publications. This is also why I continue to call on Apple to hire an industry veteran to work with publishers directly. Apple has a big, and excellent developer support team. The Newsstand does not require a staff, but one or two people who can represent both Apple and publishers, and who can work with both Eddy Cue, who is responsible for the iTunes store, and the developer support team, would be a big help.

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