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Apps for progressive printers to ‘think beyond ink’ – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

Tuesday, 26 March 2013
By Andy McCourt
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Andy McCourt takes a close look at the growing collection of emerging apps for progressive print industry and graphic arts professionals.

There was quite a response to my ReVerb #3 about mobile Apps relevant to print. Since then, a lot more has come to light from some surprising quarters – and it’s all potentially good news for a progressive print/design/publishing business.

Remember Quark? In the 1990s, any self-respecting publisher or graphic designer would use nothing else but QuarXpress for setting type and making pages. Sure, there would be some Adobe software lurking inside the Mac – Photoshop and Illustrator – but PageMaker was just ‘amateur hour’ to the committed typographically-trained designer.

Quark, however, allowed its hegemony over page design to slip through a combination of haughtiness, poor support and lack of significant new development. When Adobe released InDesign 1.0 in 1999, it was at first slow to unseat QuarkXpress but, with InDesign 2.0 and OSX support, by 2002 Adobe had converted News Magazines, Murdoch Magazines and then the big one, ACP (now Bauer Media) over to InDesign . The rest of the market followed suit and by 2009 many designers were not even bothering to update their versions of Quark.

It’s worth noting that the notion of all-in-one professional object-oriented design software was pioneered years earlier by Australia’s Wright Technologies. Its Wright Design product raised many eyebrows and was lauded by industry luminary Andy Tribute in the Seybold Report. Wright Design was Windows platform only but showed the way for integrated page design in DTP.

Back to Quark, after seeing its estimated 95 per cent market share slip to low double digits, the company tried several strategies, lowered its prices, lost its founder members Tim Gill and Mark Pope and by 2001 was in the hands of Fred Ebrahami who shifted almost all development to India – where there is even a special economic zone called Quark City. The Ebrahami family sold out to US firm Platinum Equity in August 2011, and then began the real turn-around.

In May 2012 with the considerable resources (their own estimate is $30 billion) of Platinum Equity behind it, Quark Inc purchased Mobile IQ who had developed a tablet and mobile product called Press Run, based on a cloud HTML5 conversion of InDesign and XML files.

HTML5 – THE LANGUAGE OF THE WEB

Since 1990, Hyper Text Markup Language has been the code driving the way pages look on the worldwide web. It has gone through several revisions up to HTML5’s immediate predecessor; HTML 4.01. What makes ‘5’ special is the recognition of mobile and tablet applications and the bringing together of the broad mix of specifications that were homogenized under all previous versions of HTML. It’s purer, more powerful and mobile. Why is this important?

When a PDF document or publication is uploaded to the web, it is essentially the same looking PDF that was printed. Links can be embedded to video and websites for example but essentially it is a PDF that mimics the printed item, sometimes with pages that can turn and zoom-in/out. If it remains a PDF, its functionality and interactivity will always be limited and the files size will be clunky, especially for magazines and catalogues.

HTML5 has pure internet DNA and is the ideal language in which to publish on the worldwide web – but how to write all that complex code and maintain the integrity of the publication while adding the interactive features.

This where it gets exciting. After acquiring Press Run, Quark invested in the development and has re-named it AppStudio. To put it simply; designers can create their magazines and catalogues as per usual in QuarkXpress or InDesign, upload via the cloud to AppStudio; chose the added interactive features and have the publication converted to HTML5 for publication to any mobile and tablet device. No code writing needed – you just do what you have always done on Creative Suite or Quark.

Publications ported to AppStudio are not read through a ‘viewer’ – they are in themselves online publications with fully selectable text and searchability. Magazines that has so far gone mobile/online with AppStudio include:

  • BBC Good Food Guide
  • British Medical Journal
  • My Ford Magazine (Time Inc.)
  • Top Gear Portfolio
  • Amnesty International Journal
  • Guitar Interactive

And dozens more in the USA and Europe. In a case study conducted on the tablet version of BBC Good Food Guide, 65 per cent of iPad users downloading the App from the Apple iTunes or AppStore, became subscribers to the digital version. Print circulation has not suffered – these are either new users or dual tablet and print subscribers. An additional benefit is the ability to measure page and advert dwell times, popular click-throughs; in fact anything important about the readership’s habits that can be used by a marketing department.

Creating a publication in AppStudio can be trialed for free here and is also included as part of QuarkXpress 9, which is in itself a much-improved product these days. There are also excellent online tutorials there. A roadshow called ‘Think Beyond Ink’ (snappy!) is currently underway in the Northern Hemisphere, taking in San Francisco, New York, Hamburg. Paris and London. After contacting Quark, there are no firm plans to bring the tour to Australia or New Zealand as yet but ‘maybe in the future.’

OTHER PUBLISHING APPS

HTML5’s charge is encouraging more players to enter the publishing App field. One of these is a small company formed by ex-Agfa/IBM staffers and called Readz.

Realview Digital has also embraced HTML5 and has enjoyed great success making retail catalogues available on tablet and other mobile devices. Realview is not as ‘App’ focused in that a true App is downloadable from the Apple, Google or Android stores. The advantage of being App-centric is that your publication is available to entire world, if you want.

For textbooks, a start-up called Inkling has developed HTML5 based interactive academic publishing for the iPad.

HTML5 is still a work in progress but what isn’t in the online world? There will be more to come for sure but the leader for now appears to be Quark with AppStudio.

The attraction for publishers is that HTML5 apps are already showing better performance in monetizing their content – long a problem for print-based publications going online and mobile. It’s not just the subscriptions added but advertisers love the measurability and immediacy. The prospect of geo-location of tablet publication readers, say reading an article on a new Ford car, offer the potential of instant advertising with a message such as “You are only 5 minutes away from a place to test drive the new Ford XYZ, at Smith’s Ford dealership…call now…”

For printers who take the trouble to clue up on AppStudio-like apps; where files are created with InDesign or QuarkXpress, a whole new world of services opens up for you in offering online and mobile device versions of your client’s publications, with a minimum of new investment and learning. AppStudio is cloud and subscription based starting from $99 a month and rising depending on how many issues, downloads and titles are involved.

Tablets represent a screen size that is perfect for publications and, as with all mobile devices, the growth in usage is huge. Maybe it’s time for progressive ANZ printers to ‘think beyond ink?’

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