Future cloudy, try again later

In the face of complaints that iPad magazine subscriptions can crowd up all a tablet’s storage space, one solution is to store back issues in the cloud.

Tablet computers, especially Apple’s iPad, are on the steep side of the growth curve. Sales in general are forecast to rise 54 percent in 2012. Use among businesspeople is set to quintuple over the next five years. Tablet users shopping with Apple’s “Newsstand” app are spending $70,000 a day on newspapers and magazines.

So why are tech pundits and media opinionators so cranky about the latest iPad 3? At TG Daily, a columnist says “Yes, the iPad 2 is better than the ‘New’ iPad.” At CNNTech, Mashable writer Lauren Indvik asks, “Why do magazines look so bad on the new iPad?” And Business Insider’s Dylan Love has no question as he explains “Why Magazines Look Terrible On The New iPad.”

One of the issues that bedevils publishers is the iPad 3’s new Retina display. At quadruple the resolution (2,048 by 1,536 pixels vs. 1,024 by 768 pixels), magazine issues built for older iPads can look jaggy, while hi-res magazine folios, optimized for the new screen, look great but require larger file sizes. That’s a problem given the relatively low memory capacities in most tablets. As iPads fill up with every new issue that a magazine subscriber downloads, especially issues filled with video ads and high-res graphic bells and whistles, the problem of bloat increases. The last thing a publisher wants is to be an object of resentment as a subscriber ponders what to delete.

(And to be fair, some less cranky writers are defending the new iPad, saying that the file size issue is manageable.)

Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite will be offering one solution when it becomes available later this year: it gives publishers the ability to manage how the reader stores back issues. For example, a publisher can specify that the three most recent issues of a magazine are stored locally, on the iPad, and the older issues are deleted from the iPad and available through Adobe’s cloud service. The DPS system, according to Adobe’s Lynly Schambers-Lenox, group product marketing manager, digital publishing, offers publishers flexibility in deciding how many issues to store on the tablet and how many to offload to the cloud.

If publishers adopt this solution, they’ll need to push it as a feature, not a bug. Publishers will have to sell this as a space saver, so that when an off-the-grid reader wants an article from four months ago and realizes it has been “deleted” without her permission, she does not get angry.

Does a reader still “own” a back issue of a magazine that lives on the cloud? Did they own it when it was on their iPad just after publication? Intellectual property rights aside, cloud-based storage of back issues -– when it launches — may be the solution that quiets the critics of app-based publishing.

By Michael Moran Alterio

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