Magazines on Tablets: Print Afterthought?

Khoi Vinh, former design director of nytimes.com offers his opinion of magazines on tablets:

My opinion about iPad-based magazines is that they run counter to how people use tablets today and, unless something changes, will remain at odds with the way people will use tablets as the medium matures. They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all.

Strong words. This seems to be a perennial problem for print publishers, and the magazine industry could do worse than taking these thoughts seriously and making their digital content work with platforms instead of in spite of them. Vinh suggests that one reason the tablet apps are so lackluster is because publishers are outsourcing them:

My understanding is that a lot of these apps are being actively encouraged and even partially funded by the folks at Adobe, who are pushing a tablet publishing solution that, unsurprisingly, builds off of the software franchise that they won over the print publishing world with. In fact, Conde Nast has turned over technical operations for all of their apps to Adobe, which says a lot about how they’re thinking about their tablet strategy.

The Adobe promise, as I understand it, is that publications can design for one medium and, with minimal effort, have their work product viably running on tablets and other media. It says: what works in print, with some slight modifications and some new software purchases, will work in new media. It’s a promise that we’ve heard again and again from many different software vendors with the rise of every new publishing platform, but it has never come to pass. And it never will.

This reminds me of the “write once, run anywhere” premise Sun used in the 1990s to market Java.


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