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Off the Hoof

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Relearning Important Lessons

Jason Pontin, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the Technology Review has published a great and revealing post that shows that publishers are finally coming around to the understanding that the old, reliable print publishing model just does not transfer to digital media. Again.

I know. Didn’t we go through this lesson already? Well, kind of. The first web boom showed publishers that there was money to be made on the web, so they started tentatively trying it, and some figured it out. Most just ended up trying to cram as many ad units as they could onto web pages (most of our pagination technology comes from trying to drive up pageviews).

When the iPad came out, there was a flurry and rush to create apps that would give the publishers the same level of control as print. Ad revenues would be saved! The web would remain a marginal income stream! Hooray!

Or not. As Pontin points out, the economies of publishing apps never really made sense. In addition to Apple’s demand of 30% of sales through apps, there was the technological hurdle.

Absurdly, many publishers ended up producing six different versions of their editorial product: a print publication, a conventional digital replica for Web browsers and proprietary software, a digital replica for landscape viewing on tablets, something that was not quite a digital replica for portrait viewing on tablets, a kind of hack for smart phones, and ordinary HTML pages for their websites.

And then, there was the real problem.

But the real problem with apps was more profound. When people read news and features on electronic media, they expect stories to possess the linky-ness of the Web, but stories in apps didn’t really link. The apps were, in the jargon of information technology, “walled gardens,” and although sometimes beautiful, they were small, stifling gardens. For readers, none of that beauty overcame the weirdness and frustration of reading digital media closed off from other digital media.

That paragraph speaks volumes about the hard, hard lesson that many publishers have been avoiding for the last decade. It’s a generalization, yes, but there was the distinct feeling that publishers were just holding their breath, waiting for the technology breakthrough that would return to them their beloved chokehold on both content and advertising.

And now here we are back at the web. The unpredictable nature of the browsing device requires the thoughtful and intelligent use of the most flexible coding environment available. Just as in 1999, that is HTML, not compiled code. Welcome back!

About Mule Design Studio

Mule creates delightful interfaces, strong identities, and clear voices for useful systems and nice people.
Also, We are funnier than all other designers.

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