Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Digital editions should be killed

Digital editions don't provide the functionality of a website and you are wasting your content by using them.

What are they?
Digital editions are online magazines that physically look like a print magazine.

Example of a digital magazine, iGizmo, Issue 7

These have been on the scene for many years but I've so far managed to ignore them and tried to convince others to do so too. I've never had a specific reason for this dislike beyond the feeling that doing something that looks like it's offline online seems wrong. To be honest I'd thought they'd go away but they haven't, in fact they seem just as popular as ever.

So I've recently been looking at them in more depth, well if advertisers are willing to spend money on them and people are willing to read them or even pay for them then i can't ignore them.

Examples include the lad's mag Monkey (NSFW) and a whole host of print titles which you can get in digital magazine format (men's health, business week, hello...). They come in two main types - reader-based and browser-based - the former requiring a download and the other online (with the use of flash).

No search engine indexation
My first problem with digital magazines is their inability to function with search engines. They are flash, Google doesn't like flash. However I'd heard that some suppliers of browser-based digital magazines are also providing a HTML page for each flash page so allowing the magazine to be indexed by Google. I wanted to find out more.

So i rang up a digital magazine supplier (CEROS) and battled through the sales spiel until i was passed to a technical member of their team to properly explain what they did to produce this page and what it looked like. I learnt that they are just outputting the PDF (which is what a digital magazine is made from to begin with, and flash graphics and animation is added in later) to HTML. Simple!

Well yes and no. Simple is what it does - it just takes the text in the PDF and puts it into a HTML page that looks like a simple text file. Not pretty but does the job - some of it will be indexed. All the flash content put in after this process (such as animations) won't have any HTML equivalent unless you type it in yourself.
Normal page of digital edition with full flash, java script and imagesHTML page of digital edition, just the text
Normal digital edition pageHTML digital edition page (click to enlarge)
Yes, it is black text on a grey background but then i guess it is for search engines only...
This is essentially hacking apart a PDF file to turn it into a website. The time and energy doing this would seem better spent copying and pasting every page into notepad and saving every image and then creating a website with the functionality of, well a website.

Update: Google now indexes flash, this doesn't change my opinions though.

Recreating offline experiences
Why shouldn't you recreate offline experiences online? Well the following are my reasons why and I'm not alone:
  • Zooming: If you want to read you have to zoom in to the page and move the page around - This seems ridiculous when you can fit an article with images on a well designed webpage and see it without any zooming, just a scrolling down of the page to read more.
  • It's not interactive: The beauty of the internet is its interactivity. You can't comment on digital magazines (mostly), it's difficult to link to it, you can't print it without using up all your ink.
  • It's a dead end: The internet is a city and you surf from website to website like you would walk from house to house. Digital magazines don't share this world, they're a web cul-de-sac.
  • Where do you go from here? Your digital magazine is a static screenshot. They'll be no dynamic links on the side of your digital magazine articles linking to newer articles. Once it's done it's done.
  • Usage: Why would i want to flick through a virtual magazine with turning pages? I know I'm online, I realise this is a computer and I'm looking at a screen.
  • Browser function: Digital magazines are flash - you can't press the back button on explorer when you turn a page and want to go back.
  • Accessibility: I'm not sure how accessible these are but looking at the HTML page i'm not hopeful
Content is king online. Good content will gain links over time, the more good content in your website the better you will perform in searches. More good content = more good links = higher Google ranking. But if you are putting your fantastic content into a format that is not as compatible with Google as a normal HTML web page and it doesn't lend itself to being linked to you are wasting that content.

So if you're thinking about using digital editions only use it if you want something short term - it may well provide instant hits when emailed out, and immediate revenue from advertisers excited by its interactivity. But long term, putting good content in a search engine friendly format will gain exponentially more hits over time and building relationships with advertisers on your website may well provide more revenue over time.


Johnson said...

Digital Editions are online versions of print publications or sometimes they are simply publications developed specifically to be viewed in a digital format. With print and postage rates climbing and an increasing audience of readers looking for their content on the Internet, digital editions are quickly becoming a must-have for publishers.

Ed said...

Insightful comment, thanks for that. You do realise links are "nofollow" on blogger?