Alternative options for Digital Publishing

First, Happy New Year to you!

And to start off the new year with some fresh thoughts, I want to share some discussions I had the last months discussing Digital Publishing options.

A common question is how to distribute content for the iPad. The obvious ones are of course Apple’s App Store (iTunes). However, though being the most powerful solution (technically), for some workflows and business models it is not the right option.

One typical reason to decide against Apple’s App Store is the 30% commission Apple charges for any purchase no matter what model you choose (selling app, selling content in-app, subscription etc.). Personally I feel that taking the infrastructure, the marketing possibilities and especially the ease of user experience Apple built do justify the cost. If you want to create native apps, there is also no other way (allowed) to distribute paid apps to the world.

So if you need to publish content that you want to charge for outside the App Store, you need to look for alternative technologies to (native apps). Some technologies that come to mind are HTML, PDF and ePub.

ePub is a promising standard and maybe the only standard for Digital Publishing. Its newest iteration (ePub v3) uses HTML5 internally and can be syndicated using many services (including amazon’s Kindle using a converter). However using such a syndication service (or bookstore) might mean that again you need to play by the rules set up.

Of course you could host an ePub also on your own website (like HTML and PDF). The biggest technical consideration you then need to make is how to protect your content (setting up a DRM or an eShop with log in) if you want to sell content. Another larger consideration is how you will promote it (that customers can find it).

Of course if you are a known brand, the marketing aspect will not be huge, though customers tend to navigate to the App Store first (“Is there an app for that?”).

As I am sure that the current technical limitations of web apps will be overcome soon and HTML5 will be the future, in my humble opinion payment options are biggest issue of selling your content yourself:

A typical iPad user knows that credit card information (or other types of payments) just need to be registered once with Apple and then the one tab shopping experience is easy. Now if you want to sell your app/content, you somehow need to collect user data (name, address, email) and payment methods (credit card). Beside the scare of phishing readers might have (a good brand will help build trust), it definitely builds a (small) purchase hurdle for registering and submitting personal information, maybe long enough for a spontaneous user to not continue with the purchase.

That I believe will also be the biggest challenge with the upcoming trend of HTML5 apps (or also known as “web apps”) and is today the major advantage of native apps. Maybe a combination of both (HTML5 wrapped in a native app) is the way to go in the future? We’ll see.

If you want to publish internally (an employee newsletter, sales tools, manuals etc.), then please read my next entry about the Enterprise program from Apple: http://www.planetquark.com/2012/01/03/publish-apps-internally/