Crossing Over

Putting 10 Digital Edition Vendors to the Test

We asked some of the leading digital magazine vendors to take a PDF of our recent MAGZ A–Z issue and create a digital edition from it. Each was then tested using Safari 4.1 on a MacBook, running Adobe Flash 10 with a high-speed Internet connection. We also asked the vendors for a sample price: how much would it cost for a year’s worth of digital magazines for a hypothetical quarterly of 96 pages, with a 50,000 print circulation?

Because digital editions are hosted externally, the systems that control them are always changing and improving. Texterity and Advanced Publishing both have new versions of their systems about to launch, with new tools and options that were not available at the time of our review in July 2009.

Click on the covers to view that digital edition.
Advanced Publishing BlueToad.com issuu nxtbookmedia PageSuite
pageturnpro typeWares texterity YUDU zmags

ADVANCED PUBLISHING

www.advancedpublishing.com

Browser Requirements: Silverlight or Javascript

Link to Articles from Contents Page? Yes

Link to External Webpages? Yes

Viewable Offline? Yes, via PDF Download or using their own offline viewer

Ease of Use (out of 10): 6

PROS:

CONS:

Cost for Sample 96-page Quarterly: $1,000–1,500 set up fee, then $11 per issue

Bottom line: Worth a look, especially when their new version launches soon. A simpler interface and less-complex instruction page would make it much easier to use.

View FPO's MAGZ Issue as done by Advanced Publishing

BLUETOAD

www.bluetoad.com

Browser Requirements: Flash

Link to Articles from Contents Page? Yes

Link to External Webpages? Yes

Viewable Offline? Yes

Ease of Use (out of 10): 6

Pros:

Cons:

Cost for Sample 96-page Quarterly: $336 ($3.50 per page)

Bottom line: As long as the child-like interface doesn’t contradict your content, BlueToad is worth playing with.

View FPO's MAGZ Issue as done by Bluetoad

ISSUU

www.issuu.com

Browser Requirements: Flash

Link to Articles from Contents Page? No

Link to External Webpages? Yes

Viewable Offline? Yes, as a PDF

Ease of Use (out of 10): 7

Pros:

Cons:

Cost for Sample 96-page Quarterly: Free, or $19 per month without ads or branding

Bottom line: The market leader in indie publishing, with its own creative-focused newsstand. The free basic model means it’s well worth trying out if you don’t need enhanced features.

View FPO's MAGZ Issue as done by Issuu

NXTBOOK

www.nxtbook.com

Browser Requirements: Flash/Offline reader uses Adobe AIR

Link to Articles from Contents Page? Yes

Link to External Webpages? Yes

Viewable Offline? Yes, including option to select only certain pages

Ease of Use (out of 10): 8

Pros:

Cons:

Cost for Sample 96-page Quarterly: $1,850 for the platinum package (other packages are available)

Bottomline: Cost aside, the best offering of the enhanced service options. It’s clear interface is user-friendly and unintrusive.

View FPO's MAGZ Issue as done by Nxtbook

PAGESUITE

www.pagesuite.co.uk

Browser Requirements: Flash

Link to Articles from Contents Page? No

Link to External Webpages? Yes

Viewable Offline? Yes, including option to select only certain pages

Ease of Use (out of 10): 7

Pros:

Cons:

Cost for Sample 96-page Quarterly: $1,750 per year

Bottom line: For a stripped-down page, it works well. Also offers enhanced media and advertising options for no extra cost.

View FPO's MAGZ Issue as done by PageSuite

PAGE TURN PRO

www.pageturnpro.com

Browser Requirements: Flash

Link to Articles from Contents Page? Yes

Link to External Webpages? Yes

Viewable Offline? Yes, as a PDF

Ease of Use (out of 10): 5

Pros:

Cons:

Cost for Sample 96-page Quarterly: $300 per year

Bottom line: Low-cost option, but until it expands its offering and improves its load times, probably not worth the gamble.

View FPO's MAGZ Issue as done by Page Turn Pro

TEXTERITY

www.texterity.com

Browser Requirements: Javascript

Link to Articles from Contents Page? Yes

Link to External Webpages? Yes

Viewable Offline? No

Ease of Use (out of 10): 8

Pros:

Cons:

Cost for Sample 96-page Quarterly: Pricing dependent on publishers’ needs and options

Bottom line: A viable option, with a well-designed interface. Its own website design lets it down a little, but the end product is good.

View FPO's MAGZ Issue as done by Texterity

TYPEWARES

www.typewares.com

Browser Requirements: Adobe Acrobat

Link to Articles from Contents Page? No

Link to External Webpages? Yes

Viewable Offline? Yes

Ease of Use (out of 10): 4

Pros:

Cons:

Cost for Sample 96-page Quarterly: Different price options are available; contact Typewares for more information

Bottom line: Not recommended.

View FPO's MAGZ Issue as done by Typewares

YUDU

www.yudu.com

Browser Requirements: Flash

Link to Articles from Contents Page? Yes

Link to External Webpages? Yes

Viewable Offline? Yes, and it’s zipped into a smaller download

Ease of Use (out of 10): 6

Pros:

Cons:

Cost for Sample 96-page Quarterly: Free for basic package; $99 to embed video/audio yourself; $12 per page for Yudu Pro, a more enhanced service (Pro was used for our test)

Bottom line: Worth a look, especially for its different price packages. Its free option isn’t as good as Issuu’s, but the Plus and Pro packages may tip the balance in its favor.

View FPO's MAGZ Issue as done by Yudu

ZMAGS

www.zmags.com

Browser Requirements: Flash

Link to Articles from Contents Page? Yes

Link to External Webpages? Yes

Viewable Offline? Yes, including option to select only certain pages

Ease of Use (out of 10): 5

Pros:

Cons:

Cost for Sample 96-page Quarterly: $3,500 per year (up to 10 issues)

Bottom line: Worth considering for its customizable system — though it seems expensive for something that requires so much work on your part.

View FPO's MAGZ Issue as done by Zmags

Creating a digital edition of your magazine is easy, with dozens of service providers out there who will take a PDF and turn it into a clickable experience. What is the difference between them, and should you bother digitizing at all?

by Andrew Losowsky

A screen is different from paper. It sounds obvious, but this fact is the basis of the challenge facing all digital magazines: how to replicate at least some of the experience of reading a print magazine, while also enhancing it with the functionality and convenience of modern technology.

We are still in the early days of the digital magazine industry. A few pioneers have dared to go digital only, but most publications are content to flirt with digital on the side, happy to see where things might lead as they gauge reader and advertiser response.

If you do your homework and enter into the process with clear, realistic goals, then creating a digital edition could become a useful and even lucrative sideline. And who knows, it could even become the main source of your readership. Either way, it’s important to know what you’re buying, and from whom.

What Is a Digital Magazine?

A digital magazine is an onscreen publication, usually accessed through a webpage and adopting a similar design aesthetic to that of a print magazine. Usually it involves some kind of zoom function to make reading easier, and the ability to “turn the page” by clicking the bottom/top right corners, and/or using the cursor keys on the keyboard.

That’s about where the similarity between digital magazine offerings end. Other options depend on the company, but may include having the Table of Contents link directly to each article; turning web addresses in the text into active clickable links; adding “rich media” (i.e. sound, animation or video) to the pages; making the content instantly searchable; and allowing readers to email individual articles or pages to their friends/post them on Facebook, etc. From the publisher side, some service providers will give you access to detailed statistics about who your readers are and where they come from; how long they spent on each page and which advertisements they lingered over; as well as other options including offering digital subscriptions and email newsletters.

What functionality your digital edition will contain all depends on who you partner with to produce it, and how much you’re willing to pay.

Why Digitize?

Every publication has a different digital strategy (including none at all). Listed here are some of the potential benefits in creating a digital edition of your magazine.

A digital edition can give your circulation figures a boost — according to a recent report in Mediaweek, more than 50,000 of Cosmopolitan’s quoted rate base to advertisers in the second half of 2008 included free or sponsored digital editions of the magazine. However, many media buyers are now demanding greater transparency of figures — so the days of using digital magazines as a sleight of hand to boost circulation figures may soon end.

More potential advantages of digital editions:

• They can help introduce readers around the world to your publication, including in markets where your print edition isn’t available.

• They can give you an easy and professional Web presence with­out the need for a dedicated Web editor; and in the case of some digital formats, your stories will be searchable in Google, helping raise the profile of your publication around its given specialty.

• Digital editions are a great way to make your archives available and easily searchable.

• They can create new opportunities for advertisers.

• They could also provide a little extra subscriber revenue where appropriate.

All you need to create a digital publication is a PDF of your issue, which you send to the digital magazine vendor of your choice. The most important step, however, is to choose the right vendor for your needs. A poor choice could mean that your digital edition ends up as a waste of your time and money. The right choice will help you achieve your stated goals, whatever they are.

How to Choose a Provider?

There are dozens of different kinds of digital magazines out there, but they basically fall into two categories: self service and enhanced service.

Self service providers, such as Bluetoad or Yudu, are the cheapest option, because the company is providing a pre-built system to convert your PDF into a digital magazine. In return for a small fee (or sometimes for free, if you don’t mind some branding/advertising on the page), your digital magazine will be ready within minutes, stored on their server, readable through their interface, and viewable in any compatible Internet browser around the world. It’s good value and simple, though it’s a “one size fits all” solution. Currently the most popular of these, Issuu, is free for its basic model, and has become something of an indie magazine favorite.

Enhanced service providers, such as PageSuite or Nxtbook, provide a more complete digital offering. They use your PDF as a starting point to create an immersive inter­active experience, as well as offer advertisers eye-catching opportunities along the lines of current Web advertising. Most offer the ability to add animation, music, and video which can make your publication more attractive and useful. Each enhanced provider will offer their own range of acronyms and exclusive products, the individual features of which vary. Advanced Publishing calls their premium offering Rich Interactive Digital Edition (RIDE), while ZMags has Interactive Collateral Management (ICM). Nxtbook’s offering contains Hoo-Clix Enhanced Tracking.

If you plan to offer digital subscriptions, you’ll probably want to go through an enhanced service provider. Most of them offer secure e-commerce options. Enhanced service companies also usually offer very good customer service, and will closely work with you to achieve your digital edition goals — though you will be paying a premium price in return.

Is It Right for You?

Although digital magazines are becoming increasingly popular, their readership remains very small in comparison to the newsstand. Most people still prefer the feel and look of print — but if you want to add the varied enhancements made possible through these companies, and want to get more comfortable with the idea of augmenting your printed product, then a digital magazine is for you.

Choosing the right service hinges on your goals, and how deep a commitment you want to make enhancing your print edition. Is it important that your brand is the only one on the page? How many added features will your readers appreciate in terms of the effort to add them? Are you looking to enhance your print subscriptions or create additional revenue with digital single-copy or subscription sales, or back issue availablility? Some also offer compatibility with other devices such as iPhone and Blackberry—is that relevant for your readership?

Take the time to talk to at least a few providers, and ask each on your short list to create a sample of your publication before committing. Choose carefully, because most providers require a one-year contract. If all goes well, you could just have taken a step toward the future.