No budget for apps? Consider a browser-based digital edition
Apple’s iPad and other emerging tablet devices provide an attractive new delivery channel for small, niche publishers looking to expand their reach. The challenge for these publishers is finding a way to create a tablet-worthy digital publication on a shoestring. For many small publishers, there’s simply no budget for device-specific apps.
One solution is to create a browser-based digital replica. While it may not have all the functionality of a native iPad app, a digital edition – basically a PDF port to a tablet interface – enables a publisher to recreate the magazine experience on tablets. BCT Publishing is one publisher pursuing this “no frills” tablet strategy with its flagship title, Automotive Traveler.
Last month’s launch of Automotive Traveler is actually the title’s second go-round as a digital magazine. The publication debuted online in 2007 but was put on hiatus after just four issues. The publishing team realized the Web was not the best platform for a digital magazine replica and refocused its editorial efforts around blogs and other online content in more accepted Web formats.
“It was obvious that traditional magazine layouts didn't translate well to the digital environment,” said Richard Truesdell, editorial director of Automotive Traveler and the automotivetraveler.com website.
But the launch of the iPad earlier this year caused BCT to revisit the idea of a digital magazine.
“Tablets like the iPad add a new level of portability to web content that wasn't available to us back in 2007,” said Truesdell. “The 10-inch form factor rivals a traditional magazine. It allows us to give our audience the most magazine-like product we can, with all the things we love about a magazine – the structure, the editorial focus, with recognizable contributors and professional editors.”
Eyeing reach, not device-specific apps
When mapping out their mobile strategy, Truesdell and BCT Managing Partner Bill Basore believed the best path to portability was through a browser-based digital edition rather than a device-specific app. Truesdell questions the logic of any small publisher dedicating resources to the iPad and other tablets that are currently owned by just 4% of U.S. households. But he also sees the potential of a mass market developing for tablets as Android, Windows Phone 7 and other new devices debut in a variety of form factors and lower price points.
“We're taking an all-inclusive approach in trying to bridge the divide between the comfort of traditional print magazines and something that can be delivered digitally to the widest possible readership,” he said.
That means a digital magazine that can be viewed through any browser, with minimal scrolling and zooming. To ensure iPhone and iPad compatibility, BCT Technical Director Jay Sherman built a proprietary, non-Flash viewer.
Automotive Traveler is produced on a shoestring. Two full-time editors - Truesdell and Executive Editor Robyn Larson McCarthy - create the monthly magazine around a couple of main features and other contributions from freelancers. Layout is done using Scribus, an open-source page-layout application, and Sherman assembles the digital-ready PDFs into the viewer. Interactivity in the November issue is limited to hyperlinks embedded in editorial and ads.
The publication is advertising-supported. The November edition featured 9.5 ad pages, but the company’s break-even goal is 20 pages per 100-page issue. Truesdell would not disclose rates, but said they are comparable to rates for online display banners.
BCT is also exploring another potential revenue stream: licensing its proprietary viewer to other small publishers looking to establish a presence on – and eventually transition their readership to – tablet devices.
“Publishers have to bridge the gap with a traditional print audience that will be dragged kicking and screaming into this new environment,” said Truesdell. “We think we have a platform that could help a publisher make the transition seamlessly.”