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Digital publishing, apps and responsive content – is it worth the cost?

There have been a few major logistical decisions made in publishing and design over the last couple of decades – the latest one being whether to publish digitally, in print, or a combination. Any decision appears to boil down to the Betamax/VHS dilemma: make the wrong choice and it will cost you.

Pages of a book

The first major decision we had to make was in the mid-eighties: which computer to go for. IBM-based or Macintosh? Most of us got that one right.

The next was which DTP software (desktop publishing was ‘the’ phrase in 1986). There were a few knocking about at the time – Adobe PageMaker and Quark were the big ones, but there were several others produced by the major typeface suppliers of the time, such as Linotype and Monotype.

Once again, thankfully, most businesses made right decision at the time, although Adobe has fought back and many have transferred loyalties.

Typesetting, artwork, film, and CTP-technology has passed by and now we are looking at digital delivery channels: publishing through apps, downloadable PDFs or making each issue a responsive webpage.

So where do we stand?

To be honest, there is no right answer. Once again there are several options.

But how do you make the correct decision? Ultimately it will come down to budget.

The simplicity of taking a fully designed printed magazine, usually the final PDF, straight into an app environment is an effective and inexpensive way to develop a digital presence. If the brand is strong, the readership will respond to a familiar print-based environment.

These apps can also, if budgets allow, take screen-optimized or responsive pages. This allows the content to remain constant while allowing for the designs to adapt to the varying screen size and proportion.

Apps can be produced through third-party developers or, with a bit of training, in-house. Mac OS, Android and Kindle apps are available, as are browser-based versions once a simple developer license has been issued.

This option can be seen as merely a short-term solution – the best way forward being to develop a stand-alone product app with completely re-purposed content and design, and probably a micro-site as well. The PDF-based app is, according to this standpoint, no more than a glorified ‘page-turner’ device.

This is a fair point, but it is easy to run up bills in the thousands taking this route and not reach a timely or viable solution.

One publisher reportedly spent in excess of £100,000 on external costs and an unaudited amount of internal creative time developing a bells and whistles dedicated magazine app, only to gain 353 more subscribers over the print version.

For commercial titles struggling to sustain frequency and pagination under difficult market conditions, finding investment money will prove tough. Within corporate markets the same financial dilemma exists.

Additional budgets are not always available so existing ones are re-cut. Furthermore, there is more than one delivery system to think of and the digital stores like iTunes take their cut of revenue as well.

So limited resources encourage lateral thinking, or at least the maximising of existing material and that is one route that is currently seeing a growth.

According to the FT , in the past month, nearly 1m new magazines have launched for the iPad. Most take the simple route.

The growing number of businesses offering off-the-shelf solutions has rather commoditised the app-making process. This has made recognizable, branded magazine apps a viable option to complement print for the commercial, corporate and indeed internal markets.

They don’t offer all the facilities of a website, but they do have the essential social media links and take the aggro and a large part of the cost out of app development.

By not producing an expensive app for your magazine or publication, you won’t be left behind in the digital future. Apps have become just one more distribution channel available to designers and publishers alike, and they can be shaped in an ever-changing array of formats to suit most pockets.

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