Here are some practical tips for anyone thinking about developing a tablet version of a magazine.
By Elizabeth Bolton
The tale is familiar to anyone in association publishing: The directive to eliminate print publications comes down from on high, signaling a sea of change not only in the way editors and designers do their jobs, but also in the way content is developed, delivered, and consumed. Where "online publications” once meant PDF versions of magazines posted to a website, the advent and increasing popularity of tablets now offer the exciting but daunting ability to create an interactive brand experience.
That was exactly the situation facing the U.S. Marine Corps when, in the face of rising defense costs, the entire U.S. military eliminated print publications. Gregory Reeder, editor in chief and director of Marine Corps production for Defense Media Activity, and Debra Bates-Schrott, president of Bates Creative Group, described the challenges of converting from a magazine to a media brand and showed off the stunning result at the Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting last June.
The good news for Reeder (and anyone else looking to follow in his footsteps) is that the traditional rules of good publishing practice hold for new publishing methods. The audience is still the center of the universe, Reeder assured session attendees. Track their engagement and meet them where they are.
But tablet publishing "requires a fresh way of thinking,” he said. "Great experiences get shared,” and that’s how the stories—and the organization—get exposure. While content strategy still forms the foundation of a publishing plan, a new strategy needs to enhance print with video and interactivity, and articles may need to change for tablet delivery. But tablets offer the chance to boost digital revenue, cut publishing costs, measure reader engagement more easily, and attract new readers—Marines magazine is available for free download in the App Store.
Of course, Reeder and his team faced the usual roadblocks: colleagues who didn’t understand, technology hurdles, military history and traditions, and the demographic differences between soldiers and their commanding officers. But they worked with Bates Creative Group to develop a quality magazine app that brought in the best of their traditional content and combined it with new technology trends and best practices. Then they used data analysis to prove that their methods were working.
Reeder also offered some tips to anyone thinking of developing a tablet version of a publication. Tablets are fun—plain and simple—and relying on the game or entertainment aspect of using one is a valuable guide for content development. Marines uses Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite to layout the tablet magazine, offering visual cues through bleeds to show readers whether to scroll down or sideways. A tablet page holds much less content than a printed page, so it’s important to show, not tell, a story as much as possible. At the same time, be mindful of file sizes and load times to ensure that users don’t have to suffer through long downloads.
In addition to these tips, the Marine Corps maintains a list of social media resources on its website.
Elizabeth Bolton is managing editor at American Association of University Women (AAUW). Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this conference session for our members who were unable to attend.