NewsStand, Olive Are Talking Tablets

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By: Jim Rosenberg

Can newspapers — large in format, local in focus — share magazines’ success in electronic editions?

Zinio Systems Inc. saw “enormous acceptance” in magazine delivery last year, said its CEO and president, Michael Edelhart. By December, his company was sending three dozen titles to a quarter-million customers in 200 countries. Zinio moved early into the business of supplying electronic editions of various publications. Now, its reader software (a 4-megabyte superset of Adobe Acrobat) is bundled with most new notebook or slate-style devices using the Tablet PC Edition of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP operating system. (OS).

While Microsoft made the most noise about the new portable platform, Adobe Systems Inc. worked in the background to promote the format, design, and server software to create, carry, and process electronic editions that tablets may display.

Unlike a typical magazine with many, widely dispersed readers, most dailies have comparatively fewer, local readers. But their local interests make them good candidates for electronic delivery to distant or traveling subscribers. Though large and complex, newspapers can preserve the look of printed pages while exploiting the advantages of digital delivery, handling, and storage using the software and services of vendors such as NewsStand Inc.
and Olive Software Inc.

“We believe it’s going to add revenue” to advertising, Douglas H. Dobbs, NewsStand co-founder and senior vice president of sales and marketing, said of the ability to launch video from a photo or longer messages/videos via online connection to advertisers’ servers.

NewsStand delivers printable electronic facsimiles of publishers’ dailies over the Web to subscribers who prefer them to the newsprint product or who live far from distribution areas. Already, it can apply an advertising “wrapper” as an introductory page that identifies an electronic edition.

Reading electronic editions tailored to the new tablets’ high-resolution screens may prove easier than toggling between views of broadsheet pages larger than typical lower-resolution computer screens. And instead of printing out shrunken or partial pages on commonly available paper sizes, tablet users may simply take along the device or mark up a document on screen with the tablet’s pen and share it via e-mail.

Publishers won’t want to add staff for the electronic editions of print products. “Right now, we’re processing a terabyte of information a month,” said Dobbs. “U.S. newspapers have a lot more work to do,” he added, when it comes to automating information processing for electronic publication. So far, his only client with automated processing is Austria’s Die Presse (which automatically receives detailed subscriber data).

Adobe is working with vendors of newspaper-publishing systems to automate content purposing for tablets and other devices using tagging and templates, according to James Alexander, its cross-media-publishing-product-management director. Post-production processing — compression, encryption, preparation for distribution — is work for the Adobe Content Server, Alexander said.

But tailoring editions for the new devices’ screens isn’t necessary, said Olive Software Executive Vice President Shaun Dail. “Any customer that’s up with Olive today can deliver on- or offline to a tablet,” which, he added, “is virtually an Olive-ready reader” owing to the browser and the variable display options Olive provides, ranging from straight text to on-page browsing, as well as magnifying and searching. If tablets succeed laptops and the market calls for it, said Dail, “we could … very easily” output in the Kent format created for newspapers.

“We believe we could write a specialized skin to fit a tablet better,” said Freedom Interactive Community Newspapers President Tom Porter, who called it a one-day job. Freedom Communications Inc., Irvine, Calif., supplies Olive-generated editions of a number of its dailies and weeklies across the country.

Using existing page files, said Dail, entails no change in work flow, whereas redesigning for a new format requires process changes and editorial involvement. He said Olive is waiting for the tablet OS to “stabilize” and to see what else Microsoft may have in store for the devices. Dail also said he believes the near-term news-reading experience on tablets will not be offline, owing to bandwidth issues in downloading.

The Gazette, Freedom’s daily in Colorado Springs, Colo., has signed 716 electronic-edition subscribers since it began charging in December. Of them, said Marketing Development Director Sue Lutz, 246 also get the printed paper and about 200 are former mail-delivery subscribers.

Besides leading to subscription-sales success, Porter said, the same process can move paid print ads to free Web listings that retain the magnification and hot-linking of versions in the electronic edition; automatically create context-rich, archive-ready editions; supply electronic tear sheets; and possibly offer some commercial printing opportunities.

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