May 11, 2015 Last Updated 3:45 pm

Learn English: a simple digital magazine from an evolving digital publishing platform

New Apple Newsstand app, created in support of an ESL podcast, is a more advanced example of a digital magazine built using of a platform popular with self-publishers

There are PDF publishing platforms and there are native digital publoishing platforms, and until recently the two were pretty much in completely different camps. But that is beginning to change and comapnies realiee that they need to offer more features and design options to their customers.

ESL-coverLearn English is a new Apple Newsstand app offering a digital magazine using the MagCast platform. Published by ESLPod, the magazine is being published in support of the company’s English as a Second Language podcast – which is pretty obvious by the developer account name.

But what is a bit different is that the app appears under the publisher’s name rather than the platform’s (MagCast apps appear under the publisher’s name, unlike some other platforms), and that the app is not a simple PDF.

The layouts are still fairly simple, but they at least allow the reader to scroll through a story, rather than swipe from page to page as one would an eBook. This is a major improvement, as is the layers one finds in the design.

As I said, things are still simple, but they work.

PDF platforms have come in two flavors: one that appeals to self-publishers, and ones that are used by commercial publishers who use them to produce a replica edition of their print magaine.

In the case of the platforms for self-publishers, these usually produce readable digital magazines because the designer is making font choices based on the digital device that is being targeted. But since most self-publishers are not designers, the page layouts are often unattractive and the end product usually screams “made by a self-publisher.” The platforms that usually offer these kinds of solutions are generally inexpensive or offer a revenue-share model.

The PDF solutions most often used by the big publishers, ironically, are expensive and produce a digital version of the print page that is hard to read, navigate and cannot it seems hang on to subscribers. Worse, there are some big publishers who consider this horrible way to create a digital magazine “the industry standard.”

ESL-1-smBut some PDF platforms who are targeting self-publishers are beginning to supplement their platforms with new features, and sometimes new capabilities. One platform, for instance, has been rather inventive with it previews, offering publishers the option to allow new readers to preview issues for a couple minutes rather than offering a couple pages (this probably reduces the file size, as well, as there is no need for a preview file). Some are starting to offer web app solutions to complement their app store products.

Still others are starting to make their platforms more dynamic by moving beyond the static page and making their digital magazines more like those built using InDesign-based platforms – with not so many features, but enough to make the resulting digital magazines feel more native to digital.

I’m sure this trend will continue. What is needed next, however, is more sophisticated marketing support that will help these magazines find subscribers.

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