Will Emerging Standards And Specifications Help Us Normalize Digital Magazine Publishing?
The emergence of an industry standard is usually a sign that that particular industry or practice has reached a tipping point of market acceptance and potential profitability. A pre-digital example, SWOP, established a common procedure for offset printing color consistency and quality. It encouraged innovation and competition by vendors -- especially in the area of proofing -- and allowed advertisers, publishers, and printers to lower their operating costs. HTML is another example, illustrating how some vendors and developers can create a common framework for cost-effective innovation.
In the HTML example, large companies like Microsoft tend to advance their own, proprietary approach ahead of standards that might let competitors erode their advantage. However, any widely-used standard or specification signals that a process once considered mysterious and esoteric is now an accepted, measurable, and dependable business practice.
There are currently three digital specifications for defining, packaging, and delivering magazine apps or content for tablets: Adobe's .folio (recently released for free license use), IDEAlliance's OpenEFT, and IDPF's EPUB 3. Only .folio is currently in widespread use thanks to the dominance of Adobe DPS. However, publishers and their technology providers are considering the benefits of using a common standard not controlled by a single commercial developer.
The Tablet Revolution
For the most part, prior to the iPad's 2010 introduction, digital magazine publishing meant websites, browser-based e-zines, or replica PDF editions. Publishers were rightly concerned about free web content and the decline of print, made worse by the Great Recession. Tablets appeared to be a solution to the problem. However, it soon became evident that interactivity came at a high price. Creating a buzz-worthy tablet edition was too often a software development process -- and a burden to sustainable publishing workflows.
In response, many publishers simply created non-Flash digital replicas -- adding nominal interactivity in the form of links and an occasional video. However, others wanted more flexibility and a more engaging experience, while still working from the notion of a well-designed magazine page. This led Adobe and others to view the page layout "canvas" as the starting point for the tablet experience.
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John Parsons (email@example.com), former Editorial Director of The Seybold Report, is an independent writer, ghostwriter, and editor. He is the co-author of the interactive printed textbook, Introduction to Graphic Communication, on the art, science and business of print, which has been adopted by Ryerson, Arizona State, the University of Houston, and many other schools and vocational training centers. Custom editions of the book are under consideration by major printing companies and franchises for internal training purposes.