Magazine article Information Today

Digital Publishing Revisited: The Industry Is Returning to a Business Model That's Built on Paper. (Focus on Publishing)

Magazine article Information Today

Digital Publishing Revisited: The Industry Is Returning to a Business Model That's Built on Paper. (Focus on Publishing)

Article excerpt

For years the publishing industry has struggled to find a digital formula that would entice readers and not cause publishers to go broke. So maybe it's time to return to desktop publishing. Take the print documents we've already created and deliver them to customers who cannot easily or efficiently get the paper product. But make it as close to the real paper experience as possible, or "the next best thing to being there."

I must admit that tethering the information interface to the rigidity of a publisher's paper version might seem hopelessly retro and restrictive. Wasn't digital publishing supposed to be a liberating experience? And why, for example, does The New York Times need to produce another electronic version when it already has a well-visited Web site? The answer to that is based on an old business model: Give the customers what they want. Apparently there are some people who want digital publishing and are willing to pay. Yes, pay! Or put another way, this could be a Web business model that might actually work. A handful of publishers seem willing to take a chance since the financial entry to market is low.

What makes this "next wave of publishing" different than others is that certain technologies have come of age or have come of age enough to make it work. And perhaps more importantly, there's wider penetration of technology in the international marketplace, which is a key factor in this business plan. The three companies at the forefront are NewsStand, Zinio Systems, and qMags.

Not Adobe, Not Microsoft

It's a bit surprising that the companies running with this model are not the usual suspects: Adobe and Microsoft. This is refreshing because it shows there's still room for innovation in a technology world that's getting smaller with each passing day. Frankly, I would have expected Adobe to lead this charge since it has been actively fashioning itself as the supreme ruler of e-paper. On the other hand, these newbie companies do make the usual hand-wringers nervous because the customary issues, such as the lack of standards and proprietary formats, loom large.

NewsStand, Zinio Systems, and qMags are essentially doing the same thing. They take the digital files that are already sent to the publishing houses and compress them by applying a proprietary format that includes digital rights management. NewsStand and Zinio use their own products, while qMags uses Adobe Acrobat Reader. Then each company manages individual subscriptions for the publisher and forwards the file to the customer.

Digital publishing is currently not a venue that's suitable for all types of published works, at least for the foreseeable future. Customers have to be highly motivated to want the material and must be willing to wait for it to download--some-times up to an hour on a modem connection. And to fully appreciate the experience, the customer needs a pretty decent monitor because these files are really meant to be viewed, not printed. Printing is an option, but it's probably impractical for an entire publication, particularly if the file includes a lot of color.

As interfaces go, Zinio has occasionally been referred to as "Adobe PDF on steroids." But that's not entirely correct. The browser doesn't attempt to replicate all of the Acrobat Reader features and is limited to only the viewing capacities. What Zinio is trying to do is similar to efforts that have gone before to make the computer monitor seem as "papery" as possible. For example, its interface features a virtual right-hand corner that has a peeled-back look. …

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