The iPad Puzzle Calls for Partnership
The iPad requires an unprecedented fusion of content and technology. Unfortunately, publishing companies worldwide are not only battling the clock to be first on the iPad but battling one another, hindered by deep chasms between editors and programmers that dim the promise for creating unique iPad publications.
Over the years, the turf wars have escalated considerably. At the start, publishing technology was a way to harness the power of desktop publishing. Technology directors were hired to deploy industry-standard hardware and software that supported editorial objectives. Then it became a way to save money, by shifting production to the editorial side. Along came the web, and an infusion of young programmers and producers. Another way to save money. Typically they were placed on separate floors or even separate buildings, far from the heart of the operation. Print and web operations operated independently, and as advertising moved from print to online, so did the power behind publishing houses.
Online publications abandoned the typefaces and graphic design that defined their identities in print, and revenue-starved editors had little choice but to accept their subordination. Web standards defined opportunities moreso than content considerations, and a sameness pervaded the internet. To this day, Road and Track looks like CNN looks like Newsweek. Same for the iPhone, where once again the formats are restrained by standardization. Regardless of whether publishers are serving wine or beer or champagne or soda, it all goes into the same utilitarian glass.
Enter the iPad, positioned as a way to:
(a) resurrect the failed business models of print and now the web; (b) present dynamic content with renewed emphasis on brand-differentiating look and feel; (c) reconnect with an advertising industry that has drifted from the web to social and viral alternatives; (d) engage a young audience that values screens over pages and has never experienced what newspapers and magazines can offer them; (e) provide a way for publications to reach a global audience for subscription and advertising revenue; (f) receive transaction revenue from online purchases that result from editorial content; (g) regrow hair, cure the common cold, and achieve world peace.
No wonder people are excited. As I type, I am returning from Europe following strategy meetings with several large publishers, through my company's partnership with Garcia Media and Garcia Interactive. My company has also had the good fortune to be involved in one way or another with several projects in the United States, as a result of our newspaper and magazine expertise and animation capabilities. On both sides of the world, the same pattern emerges again and again: a lust to be first, a Willy Wonka-like wish list, and a reality check when confronted with the technical limitations. Finger-pointing ensues: This is an editorial problem; that is a technology problem. Your problem. Their problem. Never our problem. Never our solution. That's what needs to change.
First step: Put everyone on one team. Technology and editorial and advertising and marketing must become gears in the same machine, with no uncertainty about which gears turn which, and toward what intended result.
Editors need to know what an SDK is, and how it affects their decisions. Programmers need to embrace the editorial direction, and channel their innovation and creativity toward those common objectives. Art directors need to understand how design decisions trigger other events, potentially hours or days of programming. Salespeople need to learn what is required to create iPhone-inspired game experiences (not hours or days, but months and sometimes years). By working together, editors and programmers can apply their lessons to help shape the immersive advertising opportunities that will subsidize these new products.
Otherwise, publications will race manically toward their iPad launches, turning the development cycle into the streets of Pamplona with ambulances on every corner. Apple has provided few clues, leaving it to publishing houses to quickly build their own apps from the ground up. With this experience comes an opportunity to build new worklows and business models, and reposition assets so that groups work together instead of apart.
The next step is make-or-break, not only for iPad development but for the evolution of the publishing industry: the editorial, technology and advertising departments must buy into the same dream. The iPad demands nothing less. The benefits go far beyond the launch of the iPad and other tablets. The reward is an enterprise retooled for the challenges of the next decade.