September 4, 2014 Last Updated 10:13 am

DownBeat magazine’s app gets an update as previous vendor fades away, PixelMags comes in

There is a definite danger in launching an app through a vendor no one has heard of, but that danger is mitigated somewhat when you are in control of your own developer account.

This is best illustrated by the case of DownBeat, the magazine that has been chronicling the jazz scene 1934. DownBeat’s first app for the iPad was launched in November of 2012 and was built by Better Press, a company that up until then I had not heard of.

DownBeat-cover-lgAlthough a plain replica, the app appeared in the Apple Newsstand under the name of the publisher, Maher Publications Inc. – and though I am no fan of replica editions, I am a big advocate of controlling one’s developer account.

It is especially important in case one decides to move from one platform to another – which, in this case, needed to occur when Better Press faded from view. I discovered that Better Press had vanished when trying to contact them for the Second Edition of TNM’s Guide to Digital Publishing Platforms (more on that very soon) but found that the phone no longer was connected, then that the website was offline. I called the publisher of DownBeat, who I have spoken to several times, to see what was up and what their plans were, but did not receive a call back.

Meanwhile, DownBeat’s app, which had not seen a new reader review since July of 2013, suddenly got a few remarks – not good, of course. Readers noticed that they no longer could access issues or have their subscriptions recognized. The old app had not gotten good marks before, with readers complaining of the fact that the digital magazine was simply a PDF, but at least the app returned an issue – now, nothing.

But this morning my iTunes app showed a new update for the magazine and the app description makes clear that the app is now supported by PixelMags, the Los Angeles and London-based vendor that has been around since 2009 and likely to be around for a while.

While moving from one platform can be quite a challenge, it is made easier when in control of the developer account. Rather than having to launch a completely new app, under a new name, DownBeat has moved seamlessly to the new vendor (or at least, it looks pretty seamless so far). Those who have already downloaded the app simply get an update notice, or have the update installed automatically, depending on their settings. New readers will not be confused by seeing two apps for the same magazine inside the App Store, something that often happens when changing vendors.

DownBeat-spread-lgThe new digital edition is PDF-based again, but the PixelMags editions seem sharper to me, and therefore a little easier to read.

The advantages of replica editions are many: they can be distributed through many digital newsstands, are cheap and easy to produce, ads look good and modular ads can be included, and older issues are easily added to the library. The disadvantages show up especially in the pages that are text heavy and will require pinch-to-zoom to read. Many replicas, like this new one from DownBeat, also automatically include iPhone support – something that really makes no sense unless the platform allows for links between the stories and text versions for easier reading. Then there is the issue of a digital magazine about music that contains no audio – it is hard to imagine that any music magazine will publish silently in the future, yet most of the current crop of titles remain without audio (creating a huge opportunity not only for new digital publishers, but also practically invites the labels to start publishing their own digital magazines).

DownBeat has been a great magazine for many years, but they are no fans of digital publishing, as I discovered in my conversations with them. One day, probably under a new generation of leadership, or else a new owner, the magazine will tap into its rich history to produce amazing eBooks and digital magazines that feature their photography archives and allow for readers to he arm as well as read, about jazz.

But for now, at least we have this Newsstand app. With the closing of my local Borders, the digital newsstands are the best place to find titles, including DownBeat.

  • Nick Martin 3 years ago

    We also advocate the use of publishers own Developer Accounts when setting up magazines on publishing platforms. Branding wise it makes a lot of sense and especially for remaining in control of your earnings, ownership and reports.

    PDF based replicas still have their place and even though we at MagLoft highly encourage and support HTML5 magazines, we will probably add support for PDF uploads, as there’s a lot of indie publishers using this format. Not because we think it’s a good format, but just to get publishers started and then move them over to our HTML5 editor.