It’s been a few months now that we have been publishing Newsstand magazines in production for our TypeEngine clients and we’ve gained some hard-earned wisdom that I can share with you in case you’re thinking of taking the plunge into digital publishing. Here are some gotchas that we’ve encountered along the way so far.
Notes: This does not include the myriad things that publishers need to think about from a content perspective; I’m mainly treating the mechanics of producing the publication in the right manner. Also, here I’m only treating shipping iOS magazine apps to Apple’s Newsstand. I’ll deal with Android and Kindle in another article.
“Whose Magazine Is This Anyway?””
This gotcha is interesting in that it gets more important as time goes on. Basically, you want to make sure that your magazine app is submitted to the app store under your account, not the account of the platform.
This has the immediate effect of building your brand and not the brand of the platform you’re using. Take a look at this screen shot of The Loop Magazine, by the wonderful Jim Dalrymple. Notice that, even in the app store, there is no mention of what platform built the app. (Full disclosure: It was us at TypeEngine.)
If your app is submitted under your own App Store account, that means that you always have access to log in to the app store and see all of your reports directly from Apple. Download numbers, financial reports, etc. And don’t forget about the marketing opt-in incentive. If the app is under your account you have access to the names and contact information of your readers who have opted to share it with you.
One more teeny little thing: getting paid. If the app is submitted under your own account, you get paid directly by Apple. No waiting for your platform partner to parse your accounting information from all their other accounts. You simply get paid directly by Apple.
Later, Possibly More Important Impact:
Think about the lifespan of your magazine app down the road. Should you want to change from one platform to another or possibly replace your magazine app with one that you’ve had custom developed, if your app is not in the app store under your own account, you don’t have access to update it. More importantly, you have little to no access to all the subscribers. You’d need to submit the new magazine app under a new account and try (beg?) your subscribers to go download another app and subscribe to it through various other channels. Perhaps a banner on your web site. Terrible.
I know what you’re thinking: “But Jamie… Apple just came out with the ability to transfer apps. Couldn’t I just ask that platform to transfer my app to my account later?” Nope. Apple doesn’t allow transferring ownership of apps that have auto renewing subscriptions, which most Newsstand apps have. See here and scroll down to “Transferring An App”.
So now you see why it’s critical that your app is submitted under your own account. Brand building, access to your data, getting paid, and freedom to choose vendors.
Bottom Line: Make sure your app is submitted under your developer account.
“Why Don’t We Just Use PDFs?””
This one sort of goes without saying anymore, but I’d like to elaborate on why PDFs as digital magazines are bad a idea. (Note: The Circulation Auditing industry has a stranglehold on the big publishers on this with their digital replica requirements. Kudos to the publishers like Hearst who don’t kowtow to their demands.)
Apple does not permit issues over 50 megabytes to be downloaded via cell data connection. I commonly see issues that are 100, 200, and even 400 megabytes per issue. This is killing your readership because many users download content while on the go – while connected via cell data connection. You know…mobile.
They’re a Nightmare to Maintain
Publishers that decide to support both tablet and smartphone form factors in both portrait and landscape orientations need to ship four (!) different sets of PDFs. I can’t imagine the pain of maintaining that.
They’re Not Interactive
Some platforms can layer interactive components on top of a PDF, thus exacerbating the bloat. But can readers change font sizes, switch day/night reading modes, or choose typefaces on the fly? Probably not.
While it’s tempting to simply take the output for the print version of your existing publication and use it as the basis for your digital publication, don’t. It’s a bad idea.
Bottom line: PDFs as a base for your magazine = Bad.
“Where’s My Content?””
You as the publisher are going to spend a good amount of time getting your content entered and organized exactly how you want it. What is your access to that content once you have months of issues in there? Can you export it all easily?
Bottom line: Make sure your data is portable.
“Let’s Do Tablet First and Worry About Phones Later”
Mistake. In the past couple months of running TypeEngine we’ve had over 100,000 issue downloads and subscribers. We took a look at the usage statistics. Here they are:
Taken together, iPhone and iPod touch account for almost 53% of the readers. If you’d like to leave out 53% of your potential readers, by all means do a tablet-only magazine.
Bottom Line: Make sure your magazine is tablet and smartphone ready.
“Is My Magazine Going to Look Like Everyone Else’s?”
Good question. To a large degree this will depend on the platform you choose and its capabilities for customization. Some platforms only allow you to choose a color and upload a logo. The rest of it is out of your hands and your magazine will look like all of their other clients’ magazines. If I were publishing a magazine, the last thing I would want is for mine to look like all the others. We actually dealt with this head-on in an early blog post wherein we asked the question if we “just ripped off Marco Arment and The Magazine.” The obvious answer was “no.”
Bottom Line: Just because you’re using a platform to publish your magazine doesn’t mean your app needs to look canned.
As I mentioned at the outset, there are obviously many more things to consider when launching your own digital magazine. But these were a few of the items I’ve dealt with just recently. If you have any others that you’d like to share, please hit me up on Twitter, LinkedIn, or App.Net.