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Monday, November 15, 2010

The New Publishing Systems...

I have been interested in doing away with more paper in my house.  The only real paper left that comes in on a regular basis is the Wall Street Journal, a Sound-on-Sound magazine, and junk mail.  At the same time I am always interested in platforms for printing (not just magazines, but books, various personal-type information like statements, bills, etc.).

The most rational choice for a reader for me would be an iPad.  Most of what I read on a regular basis would work on there, e.g., the WSJ for iPad.

On the book front there are problems, though.  Some books, like "The Drunkard's Walk", by Leonard Mlodinow, is available for an iPad via the free Kindle group of apps.  Many are available via other forms of eReader.  However, many are still not available electronically.

Now this was supposed to be the realm of Acrobat.  But Acrobat peaked too early and its model is too closed (more on this below).

Recently I came across a website called  This is some sort of startup publishing site that offers you the ability to publish your book, magazine or other printed work electronically.  You "drop off PDF files" and they do the rest.  What's interesting about this site is that they have a lot of technology to integrate your publishing with social media and they mimic the printed world very closely.

On the social media side (from this) "ReadOz digital editions also feature full search engine optimization, bookmark and share technology with 35 social networking platforms, audio/video capabilities, as well as iPod, iPad and Android applications."  Their free reader applications address most of how this works.

They accept source material in PDF form (presumably plate ready but it doesn't say) organized for how the paper version of the product would  be printed: You can provided belly band content, gate-fold content, and the rest.  There is support of audio annotation, targeted ads, surveys, dynamic content, full ad tracking, engagement tools for email opt in, etc., and so forth (you can see the full list here).

The business model appears to be tied to the front-end - somehow the cost of using this to reduce your print-run length pays for the service.  I couldn't find any details on the site regarding this however.

In terms of competitors I found  This platform appears to be somewhat similar to readoz though it would appear to have been around longer and have some real customers.  Their web site offers some better clues about the revenue model: "Achieve rapid ROI with digital publications. By converting just 5 percent of print subscribers to Zmags, you will save enough on print costs in one month to pay for your Zmags license for the entire year."

Zmags also offers support for marketing materials like dynamic catalogs and educational recruiting.

Educational recruiting?  I have not heard of this as an industry before - and apparently its full of regulations.  From the site: "A growing number of colleges and universities are now distributing digital editions of recruiting materials and media guides to prospective students. These interactive digital books offer a more dynamic way to educate prospective students and student-athletes, while complying with recruiting regulations. Zmags, the industry leader in interactive digital publishing software, enables universities to provide prospective students with a high-quality interactive reading experience that includes digital pictures, video clips, live links, news feeds, and more, which fully immerses prospective students into their institutions."

Now the Sound-on-Sound magazine that I subscribe to uses some kind of technology like this - but I cannot tell if its home grown or from a service like one of these.  So far I have not been pleased with the electronic version of this - its kind of clunky to have to zoom and pan around to see the entire page at any given point. (I like to view the entire page - lots of articles in technical magazines have things on the spreads that cross-reference each other, e.g., a box with Pros/Cons and pricing on the opposite page from the article intro.

I don't see the current iPad models making this any better (I have 17" Mac laptops which are also clunky for this) and this is the primary reason I would not switch.

Also, I have to wonder about sharing a lot of content via Facebook and so forth with these platforms.  While I can see how this might be handy on occasion in general I don't think people on your Facebook will want to dive into too much detail.  I think that the length of your posts on Facebook correspond to your age - the younger you are the shorter the posts.  Linking to long-winded articles probably won't do much for the younger set.

Overall, though, I cannot see how publishing would not move in this direction - whether with these particular tools I described or with others - in any case the die has been cast.  I think that one thing that will be needed to succeed will be a 17" display - like the one on the MacBook - but without a keyboard and turned 90-degrees.  Ideally I'd like to see double that - almost like two 17" displays. (Perhaps a version with which you could fold the keyboard all the way back around the display would do it.)  The iPad is the first step - but I think its not quite enough (sorry Steve).

Part of this too is that I am a geezer and like larger type.  My kids and grandkids have no problem with tiny text on tiny displays - me, I don't care for it.  Though I can see that texting on a 17" iPad might be distracting while driving.

Acrobat wants to do all of this but it can't.  I think the reason is that its too closely tied to the publishing end (in terms of creation) and not properly tied to reading end.  It supports everything all the rest do - interactivity and so on - but its not quite the same.  I think its also a bit too "technical" for a lot of things - particularly basic reading.  There are a lot more computer users today with a lot less knowledge of publishing and associated issues.

I think Flash is also part of the problem - its not really integrated with Acrobat and yet most of the effects like page turning and such that you see with eReaders and such are Flash-like.  Adobe, I think, will remain a player as long as print is involved.  But once the scale tips away from print, i.e., 5% read the magazine in print instead of 5% electronically, the publishing baggage (CMYK, plate-layouts, etc.) will be cast off and replaced with newer, sleeker tools.


  1. Hey Todd,
    What do you think about passive screen technology? The Kindle based on the technology has done very well, even with a low refresh grayscale display. Soon we could see the commercialization of full color and motion passive devices. That may be what is needed for epublishing to usurp traditional print publishing.

  2. Mark -

    I have read about those - but I think they are going to miss the window of opportunity here. Today's youth (< 35) market for phones and ipads is focused on interactivity, IM, texting - not static reading.

    For some people the low-refresh color would work - true book readers who need color as opposed to surfers and readers, maybe text books.

    But in general my opinion is that LCD's will simply eclipse these due to manufacturing inertia - there's already too much capacity so the price will just keep dropping and fast.

    Killing print will be LCD's legacy - the economics are there and the timing is just right (24% growth in LCD TV sales 2008-2009).

    I expected the epaper kinds of technology to happen a while ago but they never did. Kindles are just too clunky even for a geezer like me...


  3. Hi Todd,

    Thanks for the Zmags mention. I agree that text heavy pages can be hard to read on the small or large screen. Its just not the same as holding a magazine or a book in your hand. But with the right blend of large font text, audio, images and video, we can capture and hold the attention of the next generation using hand-held devices to digest content.

    Not sure what the future holds for paper. But I may venture a guess that it will be a luxury item. Time will tell.