where web content management and user experience collide

What the iPad means for web content management

Publishers are understandably excited about the iPad, for a couple of reasons other than simple gadget lust. First, Apple have already implemented a hugely successful paywall in the iTunes store, selling music, games, TV, films and apps. With the introduction of the new iBooks app, publishers hope that consumers will (finally!) be willing to cough up for magazine and news content delivered over the web.

In addition, many see the iPad as offering an opportunity to deliver more engaging content. It seems likely that iPad content will be able to achieve something close to print quality layout and typesetting, but with the added goodness of video, audio and social features. That could be pretty exciting, especially for magazine content (though I expect there will be teething troubles, eg. the return of the splash page…)

These two things aren’t unrelated: more engaging content will help justify the introduction of charging. I’d guess many publishers are also hopeful there will be a resurgence of professionalism, figuring that only they will have the experience and skills to generate quality layout on a regular cycle.

But there’s the rub. As Bill Jensen of the Village Voice pointed out during a panel at SXSW this week, existing production processes are unlikely to support the necessary workflow.

For print-to-web productions, here’s what typically happens at present: copy and images are prepared for the print edition (using, say, InDesign), with attention to word counts and layout so that it all fits on the page. Then the raw content is exported to a WCM, discarding all the layout information (which would be pretty useless anyway, as tablet dimensions and resolution will be significantly different from the printed page).  In the WCM, there’s likely some extra metatagging etc carried out by the web team, with rich media content blended in. But there’s not usually any layout to speak of: content is simply pumped out through fixed web templates. At most, the web team choose from a set of pre-existing templates.

Bringing per-page design, layout and typesetting back into the equation is a big shift, and one that I’d guess most existing WCM solutions will have trouble coping with, certainly not without expensive customisation or reengineering. In the short term this might create greater opportunity for vendors like Issuu, who are already generating “digital editions” of print publications, albeit without much in the way of webbish enhancement.

But if the iPad is successful and this scenario does play out in the wild, then pure-play WCM vendors may need to gear up to make significant changes in their product functionality; hopefully via a deeper integration than just bolting on a standalone iPad solution as an additional layer of production workflow.


Filed under: Publishing, , ,

2 Responses

  1. Lane says:

    re the WSJ etc ipad-only sites – bet you approved of the flash-free bit!

    The sales figures for iPads back here is attracting serious media attention too – there was a piece in the Guardian or Telegraph saying Apple Europe is selling 10,000 per hour. I hadn’t thought about how advertisers will see this as a huge opportunity to get a hotline to rich teenagers and their dads

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