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August 22 2011

MagAppZine's goal: From PDF to app in about 15 minutes

MagAppZineLogo.PNGThe next TOC Sneak Peek webcast on August 25 will feature startup company MagAppZine, a platform that allows publishers to create custom apps without a lot of overhead.

In the following interview, MagAppZine founder Paul Canetti (@paulcanetti), who worked at Apple during the birth of the iPhone and the subsequent app revolution, talks about how the MagAppZine platform works and the benefits he sees for publishers.

How did MagAppZine get started?

paulcanetti.jpgPaul Canetti: I was working at Apple when the iPhone was first released and I got to see the effects of the "app revolution" firsthand. I left in 2009 and started creating apps for hire, and that is when I realized the huge potential for publishers — but the costs and demand on resources were just too high. So I set off to create a platform where publishers can actually create apps themselves and manage their content over time, quickly, easily, and affordably.

MagAppZine really aims to get publishers of all shapes and sizes up and running in the digital age as painlessly as possible. Anyone that tells you it's hard is just doing it wrong.

What's the process for creating an app through MagAppZine?

Paul Canetti: There are five basic steps:

  1. Sign up for an account at
  2. Once logged into MagControl, our web dashboard, click "Create New App"
  3. Enter basic information like name, description, and upload your logo, app icon, etc.
  4. Start adding issues by uploading PDFs
  5. Click "Submit" and we send your app off to Apple

The whole process takes about 15 minutes, assuming you already have your icon and such ready to go. I should also mention that starting in September, it is going to be free to sign up for an account and try out the MagControl tool. You can make an app and upload issues using your free account. Only when you want to actually submit it to the App Store in step 5 will you be charged.

Is the platform targeted toward a specific kind of publisher?

Paul Canetti: Clearly the name brings in magazines first and foremost, but the tool itself is really applicable to all sorts of publications. Anything that can be a PDF is fair game. I have a lot of conversations with small book publishers looking to create a bookstore app on a particular topic or as a branding tool for the publisher or a specific author. It is my philosophy that you should be everywhere your readers potentially are, so when someone searches for you on the App Store, it's you that they find.

How can book publishers use the platform?

Paul Canetti: The bookstore app is really cool, and chunking up books into collections fits nicely under the umbrella of the app. I'm also excited to start seeing sub-divisions of books — selling chapter by chapter — or using the subscription functionality to have a sort of book club app or a series where new content is being released regularly. The possibilites are really endless. Not only that, but using our new multimedia and link tools, you can add audio or video to your books, skip around within the book — remember the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series? It really opens up the doors for being creative and taking advantage of the format.

What's your launch schedule?

Paul Canetti: Our most basic app package launched in April of this year, but in September we are re-launching MagAppZine 2.0, which will include the new links and multimedia, an InDesign tool, and integration with Apple's upcoming Newsstand feature. We're also rolling out a new tiered monthly pricing structure that has plans starting at $99 a month.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Webcast: TOC Sneak Peek at BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine — Sneak Peeks are a TOC webcast series featuring a behind-the-scenes look at publishing start-ups and their products. Our next episode will feature presentations from BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine.

Join us on Thursday, August 25, 2011, at 10 am PT
Register for this free webcast


  • The ascendance of App Inventor
  • Apple's in-app shift: What does it mean for publishers?
  • The secret to digital publishing success? Don't start with the book
  • Ubiquity and revenue streams: How HTML5 can help publishers

  • August 17 2011

    Multitouch and the quest to make ereaders more flexible than paper

    LiquidTextLogo.jpgLiquidText founder and CEO Craig Tashman (@CraigTashman) says his annotation and document manipulation software began as an academic project, but commercial applications quickly became clear as students participating in the research started asking for copies. The software allows users to annotate, highlight and manipulate PDF content with multitouch gestures. It may be the next major step toward making etextbooks more practical for students — and it's another nail in the coffin for the "death of marginalia" debate.

    I reached out to Tashman to find out more about his research-cum-business project. Our interview follows.

    LiquidText will also be featured in the next TOC Sneak Peek webcast on August 25.

    What's the story behind LiquidText?

    craig_tashmen.jpgCraig Tashman: LiquidText actually began with an observation about multitouch technology — being able to detect several fingers at once on a touch screen. We could see that it had this amazing potential for letting people interact with computers in much more expressive ways. Instead of the single input point on a mouse, you now have 10 inputs — fingers — that can coordinate with one another, or work in patterns.

    At the time, multitouch was largely being used in attractive demos with little practical application. So we thought about how it might be applied to real-world activities, such as reading and writing, and how those tasks could be improved by giving people a much richer way to interact. The answer we found was that, to really take advantage of this technology, we couldn't just paste stretching and pinching on top of traditional ereader software. Instead, we had to reconceive the reading experience itself in the context of multitouch, envisioning anew how people would want to work with documents.

    Initially, this was just an academic research project, but participants in our studies got to try out our earlier prototypes and they asked for copies. So we started exploring commercialization, and the rest is history.

    How does LiquidText work? Does it work with any kind of content?

    Craig Tashman: LiquidText helps people read and make sense of long, complex documents — it lets people annotate, visualize, and navigate text documents in highly flexible ways using a collection of powerful, natural multitouch gestures.

    As people read, they often take margin notes, compare different sections of a text, make outlines, highlight, and so forth. But a lot of research, including our own, has shown that people often struggle with this very "active" form of reading. LiquidText facilitates this kind of reading by giving people multitouch interactions that offer more flexible control of how content is visualized, annotated, and navigated.

    For example, one can pinch together parts of a document to bring disparate areas into proximity to compare them, or one can touch two text selections at once to create a link between them. Cumulatively, these functions together with those addressing annotation, note taking and other parts of the reading process let LiquidText bring to the world of ereaders even greater flexibility than paper.

    Our first shipping product will be an iPad app, expected to be released later this year. This app will let people import standard, unprotected PDF documents and manipulate them using most of the same LiquidText interactions seen in the prototype version we use in our demos.

    Which audiences do you imagine will benefit most from this technology?

    Craig Tashman: LiquidText seems to provide the most benefit for reading documents that are complex as well as long — situations where a person's memory is strained keeping track of both the past content and one's own thoughts and reflections.

    This audience includes tens of millions of knowledge workers and students, but our studies point to a few groups in particular. College students, for example, are especially well suited to the features of LiquidText, as they gradually read things like textbooks where they have to build and maintain an understanding of a text over the course of months. I also think LiquidText would be quite appropriate for legal and analytic work, where identifying relationships and inconsistencies within a text can be critical.

    Do you envision LiquidText changing reading behavior?

    Craig Tashman: On a broad scale, I think LiquidText can enable a wider shift to electronic books, especially in higher education where ebooks tend to underperform in comparison to their paper counterparts. On a finer scale, we have already seen a shift in how people read and take notes using LiquidText. For example, rather than only annotating the document itself, people are much more likely to create elaborate note spaces with comments and excerpts using our technology. Effectively, they seem more likely to create intermediate documents that reorganize the content of the original and integrate it with their own thoughts.

    Can you share your launch schedule? What platforms are you targeting?

    Craig Tashman: We are not setting a date in stone for LiquidText for the iPad since we want to ensure the app is well tested and has solid PDF compatibility before releasing it, but we are planning to have the beta out later this year.

    LiquidText for the iPad is being targeted very broadly, but we have also been exploring partnering with higher education publishers to develop a version of the software for reading etextbooks.

    As for platforms, right now we're focused on small, portable devices like the iPad. But internally, we have explored using LiquidText on touch screens ranging up to 30 inches in size, and we think that certain applications, such as intelligence analysis, would really benefit from that type of hardware.

    Webcast: TOC Sneak Peek at BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine — Sneak Peeks are a TOC webcast series featuring a behind-the-scenes look at publishing start-ups and their products. Our next episode will feature presentations from BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine.

    Join us on Thursday, August 25, 2011, at 10 am PT
    Register for this free webcast

    This interview was edited and condensed.


  • Marginalia is still alive in the digital world
  • Open question: Are ereaders too complex?
  • Sometimes the questions are as enlightening as the answers
  • Notes that don't break the reading flow

  • May 25 2011

    Sign up for two important (and free) TOC webcasts

    TOC SneekPeek companiesIn a post last month I mentioned a new TOC webcast series we've been working on. The webcasts are called SneakPeeks and they'll offer a pre-release look at some of the best publishing tools, platforms and technologies that are about to hit the market.

    Our first SneakPeek takes place next Tuesday, May 31st at 1PM ET / 10AM PT and features segments from the following startups: 24symbols, Valobox, Appitude, Active Reader and OnSwipe. Space is limited, so be sure to register now to take part in this free webcast next Tuesday.

    While you're at it, you'll also want to register for Michael Tamblyn's webcast next Thursday (June 2). It's called, "What Do eReader Customers Really, Really Want?" Michael is an executive vice president with Kobo, Inc. Kobo does extensive customer research and this is your chance to hear what they've learned about ereader trends and what matters most to ebook consumers.

    Michael's webcast takes place at 1PM ET / 10AM PT on June 2nd. If attendance at Michael's past TOC conference sessions is any indication, we anticipate this one will also fill up quickly. So be sure to register now for this free session.


    May 19 2011

    A premium layer for web-based content

    ValoBoxLogo.pngThe co-founders of CompletelyNovel, Anna Lewis (@anna_cn) and Oliver Brooks (@cn_oli), have a new startup brewing. ValoBox, which is gearing up for private beta, will allow readers to consume books any way they want — they can buy pages, chunks, or entire books. Readers can also earn a 25% cut of sales by sharing and embedding books on blogs or Twitter.

    Lewis and Brooks discuss the inner workings of ValoBox in the following interview.

    (ValoBox will also be featured in the first TOC Sneak Peak webcast on May 31.)

    What are some of the major issues with web-based content?

    Anna LewisAnna Lewis: We're looking at the issues around premium content on the web. By premium content I mean quality media that people are willing to pay for — books feature prominently in this category. It's a bit cheesy, but I would summarize those issues as "hoops, headaches and hangovers."

    A major issue with premium content is the number of hoops we currently have to jump through to get it. It is often tucked away behind a checkout process on a separate e-commerce site or a subscription paywall. This is enough to make casual web users run for the hills.

    If you do stick it out, then you are rewarded with a product that can be a real headache. Best case scenario, you get to a web article or a fairly standard file, such as a PDF. In the worst case, it is an obscure file type restricted by DRM. All the downloads require special software to open, which you might not have.

    After you've bought from a few places, the hangover kicks in. You are juggling different logins, files, licences, and software sprawled across your devices.

    How will ValoBox overcome these sorts of barriers?

    Oliver BrooksOliver Brooks: We think of ValoBox as a premium content layer for the web. Rather than pulling users away to a different platform or website, ValoBox sits comfortably on top of communities of users who want to interact with that content on their own networks.

    To enable integration with the web, ValoBox's content and the delivery system are designed to web standards. ValoBox content can be embedded in any forum, website, or blog, or shared in any Twitter or Facebook feed. To reduce other barriers to access, we have created a pay-as-you-go system. This makes the "shall I buy it?" decision much easier. Anything spent is taken off the cost of purchasing the whole book, so there's very little risk. My favorite thing about this is that premium content can be linked to and accessed easily, so that fluid web browsing experience is not interrupted.

    Once the content is accessible, we can start to do some really cool things with the community surrounding it. ValoBox will reward every member of the content community who shares books with 25% of any sales that occur from those shares. Sharing can be as simple as tweeting a link or embedding in a site, or, for developers, integrating the content with web and phone apps.

    How will ValoBox work? Can readers move something like a Kindle book into the system?

    Anna Lewis: It's probably easiest to throw out an example. Let's say you are a publisher and you load up one of your titles to ValoBox. The ValoBox book is in the form of what I tend to call a super-widget — it's an embeddable reading application that you can place on any website, which will not only let customers start reading without leaving the page, it will let them purchase, too.

    So, a customer, "John," comes along to one of your titles and starts reading. John decides to write a blog post about that title. He can embed the book on his blog and link to specific pages in the book that he identifies as useful for his audience.

    Another reader, "Jane," starts reading John's blog and she jumps straight to the pages that John has blogged about. If she likes what she sees, she can pay for more pages, or the rest of the book. John's opinion is clearly valued, so he will get a 25% cut of any sales to Jane, or anyone else who accesses the book through his blog.

    Oliver Brooks: In terms of moving content between platforms or formats — such as moving a Kindle book into ValoBox — we have the philosophy that once a book is paid for, the customer should be able to get it on any platform they want. We have plans on how we can make this work, but it will depend on the publishers' wishes.

    When will ValoBox launch?

    Oliver Brooks: We will be launching a private beta in June, when we will invite publishers and lead users to test the platform. We will use that opportunity to load more content, polish the interface, and take on board views that will help us get a great user experience. We're planning a full public launch in autumn.

    What inspired ValoBox?

    Anna Lewis: I've been to publishing events where people in the trade have — only half joking — said that they don't care if people read their books, they just care that they buy them. That kind of attitude can't last when there are so many things competing for people's attention. We want to give the best choice to customers and help publishers learn which bits of their books and communities are most valuable.

    Oliver Brooks: ValoBox is a result of us, as web enthusiasts, working in book technology for three years. We've done a lot of thinking and experimenting, and talked to many people working in the publishing and tech industries. We have a strong aversion to the closed, proprietary form that ebooks have taken. However, as we run a book publishing service, we have also seen the requirement for effective monetization. I hope ValoBox will help provide the infrastructure for the content community to innovate, and ensure that premium content producers and their communities are supported.

    This interview was edited and condensed


    April 29 2011

    Publishing News: Week in Review

    Here are a few highlights from the publishing world. (Note: Some of these stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

    Publishing reinvented through data

    USNewsRankings.pngData is traditionally used by publishers for source references and fodder for graphic visualizations — it's a framework to weave a story around. U.S. News & World Report doesn't have much use for that traditional view.

    In a Forbes post this week, Simon Owens, director of PR for JESS3, wrote about how U.S. News & World Report has used its rankings and data to move away from traditional national advertising, a revenue source that has been on the decline for sometime. Brian Kelly, editor of U.S. News, commented for the story:

    A national news weekly had one basic advertising category that it's drawing from: national advertisers. National advertising across the board has been leaving every print product. The news weeklies got hit harder because of the nature of the product, and that particular base was one of the first to leave print almost entirely. People thought [national print advertising] was coming back and we thought it wasn't coming back, so we just decided to move on.

    Owens pointed out that expanding its rankings to be a main source of content has given U.S. News an edge over the competition: it has a store of exclusive hard data. He explained how this edge is turned into revenue:

    By becoming more consumer focused, U.S. News gained a key advantage: its target readers were people specifically looking to buy stuff. A person Googling his way to the auto rankings is more often than not going there because he's interested in buying a car, and this fact has allowed U.S. News to diversify its revenue. Not only does it aim to sell niche display advertising across these channels, but it also makes money from lead generation. [Kelly said,] "You go on the site looking at a Honda Civic, and it says, 'Here's all of the data,' and then it says, 'Are you interested on a price on a Honda Civic?' When you click on that button, you're on a different channel, you're on a dealership channel, and you're putting in a request. We get paid for that click way more than you would get paid for a banner ad."

    The data itself is also used as a revenue stream — readers can pay for access to deeper data specific to their needs. With all the talk of the decline of print media and loss of ad revenues today, it's refreshing to read a success story in which a company used the same downturn that's slowly destroying much of its competition to reinvent its business model.

    Simply converting print to digital isn't what the iPad's about

    As more magazines take advantage of the iPad's popularity, one thing thus far has been clear: most publishers are simply reproducing their print products on the digital screen.

    In a recent interview, Matthew Carlson, principal of experience strategy and design at Hot Studio Inc., said established magazines are thus far missing the boat by producing iPad editions weighed down by bloated files, slow downloads and locked content:

    Magazines have traditionally thought of themselves as kind of a locked book, of a complete, discreet object. Ideally, something that is going to be really interactive or live out on the web needs to be more like an open book — like if you took the cover of the magazine and turned it outside in so that people could discover and access the stories more effectively.

    Flipboard screenshot
    A screenshot from the Flipboard iPad app.

    The story, along with the complete video interview, continues here.

    TOC2012 heats up with Sneak Peek webcasts

    Note: this story was published here on Radar this week by Joe Wikert.

    TOCLogo Every week I come across countless interesting articles and press releases about new econtent products and services. Many sound promising, but who has the time to research them all or even figure out which are worthy of further consideration?

    We're about to launch a new TOC webcast series to help solve this problem. Each "Sneak Peek" webcast will feature 3-4 of the most interesting startups in the publishing tools, platforms and technologies space. All of these startups will still be at the pre-release stage, so the webcasts will give you a unique opportunity to learn what makes them special before their products go live.

    Details are still being finalized for the first Sneak Peek webcast, but I can tell you that it will take place in the next couple of months. Two of the slots have already been spoken for but we expect to finalize the entire lineup in the next week. All of the Sneak Peek webcasts will be free. Stay tuned to Radar for more details on the inaugural event.

    Also, if you're part of a publishing startup at the pre-release stage and you'd like to be considered for a Sneak Peek, we'd love to hear from you. Email me the details and a member of the TOC team will get back with you.

    Got news?

    Suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to send along your news scoops and ideas.

    Keep up with Radar's latest publishing news and interviews with our publishing RSS feed.

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