September 29, 2014 Last Updated 2:17 pm

First look: ‘The upper hand’ – new indy digital magazine created to improve the English skills of non-native speakers

PDF-based digital magazine uses one of the new start-up platform companies, Issue Stand, targeting independent publishers looking for an easy tool to create their titles

The enthusiasm and excitement of digital publishing to the iPad (and iPhone) has moderated considerably since 2010-11. Then, while many media observers were both overestimating and underestimating the potential of the new digital publishing platform, self-publishers immediate saw the potential of publishing to iOS devices.

Some of the most interesting digital magazines ever produced have come from independents: Letter to Jane, TRVL, The Magazine, to name just a few. Today, most indy magazine publishers are using PDF-based systems that are often only take a portion of the net sales, or a low monthly fee – allowing for quick, easy publishing.

Upperhand-iPadOne new indy magazine just released late last week is Digital Business English Magazine – The upper hand. The digital magazine appears under the name of the vendor used to publish the title to the Apple Newsstand, Issue Stand.

Because the digital magazine is built off of a PDF file, the magazine lacks any native digital features. But because it was designed for the iPad, the fonts are large enough to be read comfortably when in portrait (unlike many replica editions that were really designed only for reading in print form). In landscape, one can see there are two-page spreads designed, though in this orientation the fonts are way too small.

At 120 pages of content, The upper hand is a pretty serious publishing effort. Its mission is to assist those who are learning English in order to conduct business in the wide world (its publisher is from Poland).

“Our mission is to improve the business English skills of non-native speakers of English around the world and help them gain the upper hand in both business and their own private lives,” the IndieGoGo funding effort states. “We believe that if you know the English language, your opportunities to live a better life are much higher. That’s why we have come up with the idea of interactive, digital magazine. When we set out to create The Upper Hand, one thing we agreed on right away was to provide our readers with appealing content that would integrate business and lifestyle issues. We believe in this project, and we are very passionate about it.”

Unfortunately, the funding effort went nowhere, despite the first issue of the digital magazine being impressive.

This new app reminds one of the potential dangers of this kind of publishing effort. As mentioned above, the magazine does not appear under the publisher’s name, but under the vendor’s. That might not be a big deal were it not for the fact that there are no links out from the app description to the publisher’s or magazine’s website. This means the reader can not learn more about the magazine beyond what is written in the app description.

Another issue is that the magazine is supposed to cost $2.99 per issue (or $5.99 for six months, or $11.99 for an annual subscription). But the app currently allows the reader to download the issue for free, I’m sure that must be a mistake as nowhere in the app description does it mention a free issue.

Using vendors that slap their own names on your app is not necessarily a terrible thing, it is the trade-off one makes to keep costs down – and many vendors do it. But it is important, I believe, that the app description contain links back to your own website.

But the Issue Stand app works very well in all other respects, and the download of the issue was smooth and fast. IssueStand supports both the Apple App Store and Google Play, so with one easy upload of the PDF, the digital magazine would be available to most tablet owners. (Issue Stand is one of the 68 digital publishing platforms featured in the second edition of TNM’s Guide to Digital Publishing Platforms.)

  • Nick Martin 3 years ago

    What is TNM’s general view of PDF uploads as newsstand magazines? We get quite a few requests for PDF and always encourage people to try our HTML5 editor, but lately we have been contemplating on adding support for PDF. We are not fans of PDF at all, but it seems there are still a large number of people out there requesting it.

    • D.B. Hebbard 3 years ago

      It is a complicated question because there are two kinds of PDF digital magazines: 1) one that is an exact replica of print; 2) the other where the magazine is designed for the digital device, and the PDF is simply the file type used.

      I am not a fan of replica editions for one simple reason: they are next to impossible to read. But sometimes they are fine. Also, sometimes that is the only solution that appears to work for the publisher – for instance, when they have mostly modular ads, or when they are using the format for archived issues.

      In simple terms: if the reader enjoys the experience of reading the digital edition, the publisher (designer) has done their job. When the reader must work to read the product – using pinch-to-zoom, for instance – the publisher has failed. The reader is the final judge.