Seventy-five percent of mobile digital editions in the magazine world are powered by Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) according to 2014 data released by Adobe, including magazines published by Time Inc., Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, and Reader’s Digest. This dominance came just three years after Adobe launched the software that essentially acts as a codeless app creator linked to the company’s flagship page layout software, inDesign. Despite Adobe bearing most of the market share in app production, it sees competition from companies like Mag+, Twixl, and Aquafadas. The near unanimous adoption of Adobe’s DPS can be linked to the ubiquity of inDesign.
For users of inDesign, Adobe offers its DPS tools as a free download and offers a variety of options to publish apps to users, though the publishing tools are predominately geared to the Apple platform. To publish apps, users can subscribe to Single Edition, Pro, or Enterprise offerings, all of which come with varying price tags. Single Edition only allows users to publish to the iPad through the App Store, but Pro and Enterprise options allows publishers to reach a variety of other platforms for a much higher price tag. For the purposes of this piece, Single Edition is the point of focus. Single Edition cultivated grounds fertile for small, independent publishers to brandish their offerings in an equitable and competitive way—until Adobe retires Single Edition on May 1, 2015, that is.
When Adobe rolled out Single Edition in 2011, launching a single app came with the price tag of $395—expensive, but manageable. Then, in 2012, Adobe rolled Single Edition in with their $50 per month Creative Cloud subscriptions targeting small to mid-size publishers. This subscription provided access to Adobe apps and by extension to DPS Single Edition. Subscribers were able to build an unlimited number of apps for the Apple App Store through this subscription level with certain limitations, one being that these apps were published as standalone apps without subscription capabilities, meaning that they weren’t able to become part of the Newsstand. This was an obvious disadvantage, but again, manageable.
In pulling the rug on Single Edition, Adobe is leading publishers away from single apps to their new and improved fixed layout EPUB, in turn taking publishers out of the App Store and putting them into iBooks territory. Adobe’s rational for cutting Single Edition was two fold: one, most publishers relying on DPS tools were developing enterprise-class apps or subscription-based publications; and two, that the evolution of e-publishing technologies lead many individuals to opt for interactive e-books over over Single Edition DPS apps.
Though Adobe may be noble and logical in their spin of the cut, this cut puts small publishers in a costly and precarious situation. “The elimination of the Single Edition option is a big blow to small independent publishers who are not willing or able to sign onto Adobe’s more expensive Digital Publisher options,” says D.B. Hebbard on Talking New Media.
With this change in service, Adobe is reopening a divide between independents and conglomerates that they previously closed with Single Editions: Single Edition allowed independents to launch an app that felt like and competed with the digital offerings of the Condé Nasts and Hearts of the world without the expenditure that those corporations were capable of. By cutting Single Editions, Adobe is stifling and steering the creativity of small publishers towards their new versions of fixed layout ePubs and away from app development. For small publishers with a print-first mandate, publishers that exists due to a recent surge in independent publishing, this change in service means they are no longer able to offer products that compete digitally. What’s more, they can no longer even stay in the same Apple marketplace that they existed in before: apps sit in the App Store, ePubs in the iBooks store.
One potential benefit of moving to the iBooks store and out of the App Store is that customers expect to pay for content in the iBooks store, Joe Zeff points out during a round table on apps with Robert Newman. The going average price for iBooks is in around the $10 mark, where as the going average price for digital magazines is zero as publishers have made them free with print subscriptions, he continues.
While the jury is still out on whether or not apps are the best route for magazines to take their offerings online, as debated best in on Newmanology, the reality is that they still make for a viable and expected offering from publishers. In the Newmanology debate, magazine expert Jeremy Leslie says, “DPS served a vital role kick stating publishers into thinking about app editions, but in the longer term has proved to be a misdirection”. Since the original unveiling of the iPad, Leslie has become increasingly skeptical about the future of the app in magazine publishing and vocally takes issue with the Apple Newsstand.
This coercion away from apps shuts the door on what could have been. DPS tools are new. At little over three years old, these tools can still be explored, yet Adobe is parsing those best positioned to bring a fresh take to the technology from the fold. Independent publishers have the most to gain and the least to lose from doing something unique with the tools like DPS Single Edition. They aren’t bound to the mass-replicated formula of magazines like the New Yorker. Even if these publishers are not pushing the boundaries, with Single Edition, then they are at worst publishing with a standard and visibility that readers who use the iPad have come to expect.
Of course there are other options, as mentioned above, but these options are what Adobe forcibly made after-thoughts by linking DPS Single Edition to inDesign and all come with price tags higher than DPS Single Edition.
With all of this in mind, I realize it unrealistic to ask Adobe to martyr themselves in the name of independent publishing. They are a corporation with profitability in mind, but not once did Adobe speak of losing money on Single Edition, and frankly this change in service seems like classic case of bait-and-switch: Publishers, pay more to have an app, or publish less interactive content in the iBooks store, says Adobe.
And after all this, we may look back on the app as the middle-child who never found his potential, but in terms of delivering engaging, innovative digital content, the promise of the app is far greater than the promise of fixed layout ePubs. This may be harder to realize in a future with scrappy independents now relegated to iBooks.
Dove, J. (2012, September 18). Adobe unleashes Digital Publishing Suite Single Edition for Creative Cloud. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from http://www.macworld.com/article/2009968/adobe-unleashes-digital-publishing-suite-single-edition-for-creative-cloud.html
E-publishing Evolved. (2014, November 24). Retrieved January 29, 2015, from http://blogs.adobe.com/creativecloud/e-publishing-evolved/
Hebbard, D. (2014, November 24). Adobe will drop Digital Publishing Suite, Single Edition for Creative Cloud members. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from http://www.talkingnewmedia.com/2014/11/24/adobe-will-drop-digital-publishing-suite-single-edition-creative-cloud-members/
Kitchener, C. (2014, July 14). Publishing for Everyone. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from http://blogs.adobe.com/creativecloud/publishing-for-everyone/
Levine, B. (2014, November 24). Adobe Drops DPS Single Edition Support from Creative Cloud. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from http://indesignsecrets.com/adobe-drops-dps-se-support-creative-cloud.php
Newman, R. (2014, April 15). Robert Newman. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from http://www.robertnewman.com/are-magazine-apps-dead-a-state-of-the-art-roundtable/
Steyn, R. (2014, February 27). Adobe DPS now powers over 75% of mobile digital reading | memeburn. Retrieved January 27, 2015, from http://memeburn.com/2014/02/adobe-dps-now-powers-over-75-of-mobile-digital-reading/