September 18, 2015 Last Updated 5:51 am

Guest column: Why an app advocate chose the web instead

Adam Blades has penned several columns for TNM recently, here he talks about his transition from publishing a student at Oxford Brookes University to future job applicant

Like most digital publishing commentators, I constantly criticize publishers for lazy attempts at publishing on iPad. But it wasn’t until I was responsible for my own personal portfolio with an invested interest in its success that I gained a surprising new perspective.

As a Publishing Media undergraduate at Oxford Brookes University moving into my third and final year, I’m anxious that June will come around and I’ll be without a steady income, or the comforting label of ‘Student’ as a socially-acceptable reason why I have no steady income. As a result, I have been considering building some kind of digital portfolio to give me a chance in the tough world waiting for me out there.

AdamBlades-webSince my first experimental magazine in 2012, I have spent half my time creating interesting interactive digital magazine concepts on my iPad, and the other half advocating their benefits to all forward-thinking publishers. So surely the need for a portfolio is the perfect opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and make a stunning, wowing interactive portfolio app, right?

Actually no. And even when the thought crossed my mind, I disregarded it almost immediately and built a WordPress website instead.

It wasn’t until I full realised this dilemma that I started to reflect on the things I have been so passionate about. Whenever I talk about digital publishing, I often act as if publishers have a duty to do what’s right for the good of the industry. They have to push new boundaries, they have to innovate and explore new options. What I’m really saying is they have to produce something potentially cost-inefficient and unscalable. When I sat down to work on my own portfolio where I was the main beneficiary to its success, I looked at the situation and threw the idea of a digital publishing product out the window.

It’s true that a portfolio is very different from a magazine issue but the argument is incredibly similar.

A portfolio app has the potential to be more engaging with interactive features, video and audio. It would be native to the device, making it more responsive and intuitive. It would also be the perfect way to demonstrate my skills in creating interactive publications for mobile devices. Plus smartphone owners use apps far more than dedicated mobile web browsers to access the internet, so what’s not to love?

The same two problems have held back tablet publishing since the beginning: discoverability and accessibility. With a website all you need is a web address, which in my example is just a name, and you can find all the information you need. It’s memorable, it’s linkable, it’s compatible with every social network in the world and readable on anything from a 5 year old laptop to the next iPhone. An app on the other hand requires your prospective audience to firstly hear about it, be bothered enough to grab their tablet, search the App Store, wait a couple of minutes for a download, open the app and only then, be exposed to your impeccable self promotion.

It’s fascinating that when I’m talking about other digital publishers, an interactive folio seems like the obvious solution to their problems. But when my own investment is on the line I quickly take the decision to cover the billboards, cease the fanfare and abandon the innovative platform I have spent years heralding. Instead I scuttle back to old fashioned web.

Blades-140I still believe there is potential to be found on mobile platforms. But in future I think I’ll be more aware of the hard truths these publishing companies have to consider to survive.

Adam Blades has been interested in digital publishing ever since creating his first interactive iPad magazine at 16, and continues to pursue the subject through his Publishing Media course at Oxford Brookes University and other independent projects. You can view on his portfolio website, and contact him via Twitter or email.

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