Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

My iPad should appear in just under two weeks’ time, and with news that tablet editions can count as audited circulation, magazine and journal publishers are working hard to create tablet editions that take advantage of this suddenly mainstream device format.

Of course, publishers are way too smart to repeat the pre-2.0 mistake of shoveling their print product online, creating that vaunted category of shovelware.

That would be so 1999.

In 2010, publishers have another pile of assets to shovel, namely their Web sites. So while they may avoid shoveling from print, will they make their tablet editions shovelware versions of their .com, .org, or .net?

Or will they repeat the print shovelware errors of the past?

For a few reasons, publishers may be tempted to shovel from both print and current online sources given the current environment. And that creates a conundrum.

Rules being put in place may make print an attractive pile to shovel from. For example, the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ stance is that:

. . . a replica digital edition must include a print edition’s full editorial content and advertising, but no longer needs to be presented in a layout identical to the print version. Replica digital editions will continue to be included in a magazine’s circulation guarantee, or rate base.

That position could severely limit both the commercial upside (tablet ads become an extension of print ad sales, not a new channel) while constraining the design of the replica edition by so closely aligning it with print. Of course, there are loopholes in that the replica edition can contain more ads and more and different content — it seems it just has to have the print shoveled over, then it can be dressed up.

The temptation to shovel from Web sites may stem more from user interface (UI) design conceits and technocentric attitudes. But first, they need to recognize and reconcile their own shovelware origins. In an article entitled, “Don’t Let Your Website Ruin Your Magazine’s Tablet Edition,” Nat Ives at notes that first of all, many Web sites are shovelware from print:

If selling tablet editions is going to work, companion sites probably have to diverge from their print forerunners more sharply than ever.

In designing for the tablet, it may be tempting to think that UI conceits from your own Web site should be carried over for the sake of “consistency” and “familiarity.”

But I’d argue that perhaps you should leap to the tablet afresh, and then design back to your Web site from that new vantage point. After all, if tablets like the iPad take off, your site could be viewed more often on tablets in the coming years.

Dig anew, and shovel back.

In fact, the more complicated media landscape makes designing for the tablet a new challenge:

Tablet editions will have to occupy a sweet spot between traditional print issues and all the interactivity and the internet, neither duplicating print and underwhelming tablet owners nor becoming websites and losing their magazine identity.

As Susan West puts it on her blog, ContentWise:

. . . it’s not a magazine; this is another new medium, with its own native experience. A tablet edition will be–or should be–different from a print edition and different from a companion website.

In addition to navigating the current media landscape, publishers might want to think about new titles for the iPad, ones that take full advantage of the device. Maybe they’re shorter, more frequent, more digitally enhanced, more interactive. There is more going on here than a mere migration of existing titles to a new device.

To avoid the mistakes of shovelware, we’ll have to reconceptualize our media profiles yet again. Those who do it well should benefit both in the tablet realm and otherwise.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


8 Thoughts on "Shoveling from Two Piles: How Will Publishers Solve the Conundrum of the iPad?"

Good observations, Kent. The iPad will most likely accelerate the shake-out that the Web started: Time to start thinking about which platform is best-suited for your brand. The Atlantic, for example, translates well to a Kindle-like e-reader, while the Web is ideal for the Atlantic’s active discussion groups. Service magazines are perfect for a Web environment; print may no longer be the right medium for them. What’s the native content for the iPad?

These are all very good points Kent – certainly we must design for the iPad and other tablets.

Isn’t it a little strong to say scholarly publishers (as opposed to newspapers and trade publishers) made a big pre-2.0 mistake though? Granted there were teething problems presenting content online and many tried needlessly hard to duplicate the print copy as a website. But what was the big missed opportunity?

For most specialty journals the reality is that academics are just interested in reading the articles and not concerned with other frills – this is reflected in the continued high levels of PDF usage. We should be cautious of losing sight of this rather unexciting truth and rushing towards expensive revamps of electronic journals if this is not what authors or readers want or will use.

I think you’re disagreeing with a circular argument — we didn’t think about new content forms, shoveled PDFs over, and so they’re popular online . . . but they’re what we focused on. At the same time, very popular audio programs, video series, and other content forms have emerged for scientists from people who didn’t just shovel (Nature, SEED, NEJM, and others). If we hadn’t worked so hard on shovelware, these might be more robust, and competing more effectively with PDFs and whatnot. Also, we’ve perpetuated the trap that the page is the repository for editorial expression. That’s clearly limiting and insufficient.

If the page image is truly the culmination, the pinnacle of scientific communication . . . well, then we should have stopped in 1998 and celebrated victory.

That is of course true. But remember there was already a big difference between titles like Nature, NEJM, etc. and the majority of niche journals (i.e. most scholarly titles). The former have for decades devoted vast resources to tertiary content, science writers, news, etc. – their online development is simply an extension of this.

It has never been cost effective for niche titles to attempt to this. Nor is it what readers want of them. I’m simply saying a publisher should look hard at a title – avoiding delusions of grandeur – when deciding how to re-imagine content.

NPG provides an object lesson. Compare the extent to which they implement the developments you cite in/around Nature and their other high-impact titles with those they bestow on all the specialist journals they also publish.

I just gave a talk, and was asked why innovations don’t occur more often inside companies. Basically, I think it comes down to the traps identified in Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” Incumbents find it hard to change because their core customers (their niche) is in almost a closed circuit of transactions and definitions with them. That doesn’t mean that Google doesn’t hold value, or Wikipedia, or Mendeley, or EndNote, or the software that reports their lab values for studies. I think if publishers had been less focused on a defensive game in moving online, they might have had some of these breakthroughs themselves, or own more of the new value space.

As for NPG, their specialist journals business is about cost-savings and efficiencies. I thin it’s focused on wringing the most out of the journal model as it currently exists. So it’s not really a fair comparison. But you point to a troublesome problem, namely the fact that the big can/will innovate to some extent (probably not enough in many cases) while the small probably don’t innovate enough or at all. They might be even more at-risk.

However, what if a specialist journal went all-electronic, published most of its content via WordPress or Drupal, eschewed the costly platforms, and focused on launching microsites on the slivers of subdomains that matter most (or carving out new ones)? They might save money, find new markets, and define new areas for research (or attract new research). Where there is vision and tenacity, there is progress.

I like the WordPress/Drupal idea. Note that some OA publishers are considering forsaking content hosting completely, leaving that to PMC. It will be interesting to see whether they use something like WordPress for TOCs, metacontent, etc.

Speaking of low-cost platforms, Open Journal Systems from the Public Knowledge Project
provides simple, open source packages for journal hosting, manuscript processing, etc. These offerings are basic, but provide core functions often sought by academic journals and could serve as a starting point for innovative ad-ons.

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