November 2, 2015 Last Updated 8:57 am

History Today magazine changes digital publishing platform, launches new digital edition app

Move to the Pugpig digital publishing platform means the magazine can now deliver a native digital reading experience on smartphones, while also no longer splitting the subscription revenue

The London-based magazine History Today has relaunched its digital edition apps which appear in the Apple App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon Kindle store.

HistoryToday-iPad-coverThe new app is a significant move for the magazine. Previously, the app appeared using one of the PDF-based platforms that use a revenue-share model – something that was quite common for publishers who were eager to have their magazines available to mobile and tablet device owners in the early days of the Apple App Store.

First launched in 2012, the app offered a replica edition for both tablets and smartphones. But later on the designers began to redesign their pages for the iPad to provide a more native design and reading experience (while the smartphone edition remained a replica). This was certainly rare and showed that the publishing team cared a great deal about their readers – whether in print or digital.

The newly released digital edition app now uses the Pugpig platform from Kaldor.

The result is an app that delivers a native digital reading experience no matter the device used – a significant upgrade for those who like to read on their smartphones.

The magazine did not, however, completely reinvent the wheel in their switch from one platform to the other. Because they had been creating digital pages for the iPad using the PDF platform, they stayed with the basic look for the new app. What one sees then is a digital edition that looks a bit like what you might see on a TypeEngine or 29th Street Publishing digital edition (if you remember when TNM was partnering with Paul Blake on App Publisher you will know what I mean).

HT-iPhone-navigationThe change in platform does allow for continuous scrolling within an article (as you can see below-right), but it also allows for reading in both portrait and landscape. The designers created a nice cover for the landscape orientation, but otherwise the layouts are the same in both orientations (with portrait being the default design).

Of course, the big change is with the smartphone edition being where the changes are more dramatic, with the new app delivering a vastly superior reading experience compared to the old replica edition look (at left is the navigation and app instructions that are seen when first opening the app after installation).

The emphasis here is on the reading experience, not bells and whistles. So even though the app now delivers a native digital reading experience, the file size the reader downloads in very modest – 47 MB for the issue I accessed.

But publishers who are considering changing the publishing platforms have serious obstacles to overcome. For instance, when someone moves from one native digital publishing platform to another, older issues need to be converted so that readers will still have access to those issues.

HT-articleThe obstacles are even greater when moving from a PDF-based platform, especially a revenue-share platform, to a native digital design platform.

First, there is the issue of creating one’s own developer account (easy enough). But what about the old app, and those who subscribed using that app?

“There were concerns that if we switched over, older subscribers would lose access to their issues unless we re-built them for the new SDK — which would have been a huge task, given that we’ve been publishing the old app for over three years,” Dean Nicholas, digital manager at History Today told TNM.

“So, we’ve pulled the old app from the store, but will continue to support new issues for it until November next year so that subscribers don’t miss anything. We will also put messages within the old app issues, and send push notifications etc., informing old subscribers of the change,” Nicholas said.

“We’re hoping that, once their old app subscriptions expire, they’ll choose to subscribe to the new one. We’ve also dropped the price on subscriptions in the new app to encourage them, something we were able to do because of the higher revenue we’ll get by publishing the app ourselves.”

Nicholas said that they understand the gamble involved as they might lose some digital subscribers. But the new app now provides their readers a better smartphone experience, plus they have more control over the whole process now that they are publishing apps under their own name.

More work? Maybe a little. Better results, no doubt.

History Today magazine
History Today Limited, London
Publisher: Andy Patterson
Editor: Paul Lay
Digital Manager: Dean Nicholas
Art Director: Gary Cook

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