The Revolution Will Be Delayed
When the iPhone launched, it lacked Flash and the outcry was loud and clear: the iPhone would fail and die because of it. Blog posts were written, print press picked on it and wrote random words that they thought made them look smart, and the general public kept buying iPhones. Five years later, the world is a better place, the birds still chirp, and global warming is still the biggest subject of discussion and conspiracy in the world. I’d argue Adobe is a better place now too.
Adobe’s Digital Publishing platform is a lazy route, standing in the way of innovation. I believe it should be removed.
When Apple launched the iPad, they launched “Newsstand” and the ability for periodicals to have a “reserved area”, with background downloads and subscriptions, everything so that the user could wake up in the morning, brew some coffee and sit back reading a newspaper or magazine, without having to wait around for any downloads. Publishers saw the opportunity but weren’t sure how to take advantage of it. The problem was that these publishers saw the iPad/digital format as an “add-on” for “nerdy subscribers”. They failed to see the opportunity and, more importantly, failed to understand how Apple was giving them first-class access to the future of publishing. Most took a long time to seize the opportunity and only did so when Adobe introduced their Digital Publishing tools. Basically, the promise was the same as Flash or Air (or Java before them): write/edit/paginate once, sell on all platforms.
When Adobe introduces this promise of “edit once/sell everywhere” a whole slew of publishers jumped on board. While this was actually positive for Apple in getting some visibility and value out of Newsstand, I’m arguing that it actually stifled innovation. Most of these digital publications are little more than PDFs of the print version, with little to no interactivity and no uniqueness whatsoever. They are all huge (300Mb+) and take ages to download: if you happen to reinstall your OS, get ready to re-download your entire collection in case you want access to back issues. Also, most of them don’t even do progressive downloads, letting you read while it downloads the rest in the background. The reason for this is simple: being mere digital exports of the print layouts, they don’t actually use text but images of the text!
When Apple banned Flash, HTML5 rose to the challenge. I’m not arguing that HTML5 is the perfect and absolute replacement to Flash, but the amount of innovation we’ve seen since Apple made that move is nothing short of incredible. The rise of HTML5 led to crazy things like the rise of client-side development (e.g. Node.js, etc…), the rise of dynamic stylesheets (e.g. Less, Sass, etc…) and many other tools that sped up web development. I’m not arguing that Apple’s ban was the sole reason for this innovation either, but it sure helped to have web applications become first-class citizens. Average salaries for web designers/developers have since raised as well.
Apple should ban Adobe’s Digital Publishing Platform (DPP). I’m not saying this because I think it’s feasible or likely. I’m saying it because it’s Apple. Banning Flash was a bold move, putting the user first (e.g. battery consumption, fluidity of the interface, etc…) and banning Adobe’s DPP would, in my opinion, do the same. We need more periodicals that innovate in how they the user interacts with them, with how light and snappy they feel, with how smooth the whole reading experience becomes.
Digital != Print
Print has very tight requirements and limitations. Digital has a lot of flexibility but some tight limitations too, namely size and fluidity. We need a lot more “digital-first” typesetters and editors and that is only possible once these publishers understand the value of digital and how their own future may very well depend on it. Positioning themselves as a high quality digital periodical may very well save a lot of centennial publications. Oh, and don’t get me started on digital pricing…