[technology][/technology]A Netherlands-based company wants to revolutionize iPad (s AAPL) publishing. In much the same way that Quark enabled desktop publishing in the eighties and platforms like WordPress and Tumblr allowed anyone to cheaply and easily set up their own blog in the aughts, Prss wants to put iPad publishing in the hands of people who lack programming skills.
The app is the latest in a series of tools that democratize publications, giving high-level capabilities to those who want to distribute their message but don’t necessarily have the technical skills.
The idea for Prss came after entrepreneur Michel Elings and longtime travel writer and photographer Jochem Wijnands constructed their own iPad publication called TRVL. They had been using an iPad conversion platform WoodWing but became fed up with what they saw as its limitations. The platform is based off InDesign, which they felt made it inherantly print-centric.
“In the two-and-a-half years that we publsihed TRVL, we didn’t see something that did justice to the iOS platform,” Elings told me.
After devising a “cookbook” of all the features they wanted, with an eye toward capitalizing on the iPad’s native features for interactivity, TRVL was born. It’s now the most-downloaded travel publication for the iPad, with a 5-star rating on Apple’s Newsstand and over a million installs.
What makes Prss different
Like Quark, Prss has its own type of file: .prss. These files are smaller than traditional magazine layouts because Prss reuses the same image for different orientations and uses algorithms to shrink their size. According to Elings, this can lessen the file size of retina-version magazines from 200 MB to 25 MB without visibly losing photo quality. The small file size is extremely important because Prss operates off the cloud and streams information, as opposed to downloading it.
WoodWing, which counts Time Inc. and Hearst Magazines among its clients, requires the use of Adobe InDesign and essentially converts those layouts of text and images into iPad format as JPGs. Readers then download these heavy files all at once. Prss instead utilizes Apple’s native Core Text, which communicates the text as text and holds places for the images, which load from the cloud as you read each article.
“We wanted to increase the speed from the start,” Elings said. “Much like just picking up a magazine and turning the pages—not waiting to download the whole issue if you’re simply reading one article.”
Alternatively, one can save the entire publication for offline use—much like most iPad magazines work now.
It’s in the design
Among the other features: Users can tap on images and they will appear on a map using Apple’s map API. Voice-over capabilities read the Core Text (as opposed to text rendered as JPGs) aloud for those who are visually impaired. Share Sheets enable all of the content to be shared over a variety of social media. Elings says that Prss will soon incorporate other native iOS capabilities.
In an earlier career, Elings, a self-proclaimed Apple fanboy, helped organizations transition from Microsoft to Macs at his company AppleCloud. Now the 30-year-old is fixated on the iPad.
The problem with many iPad magazines, he says, is that they bring print—with all of its contraints—to technology, instead of beginning with the technology and its possibilities. From the bottom up, Elings wanted Prss to fit iPad. That included designing its interface to visually fit with iOS. With the introduction of iOS 7, Elings had to make further updates.
Prss magazines won’t have menus but instead will rely on what Elings says are intuitive commands: swiping, tapping and double tapping, and pinching. Social media and mapping functions are located at the lower right. If an image contains geolocation data, you can tap on it to see where it fits on a map.
“I want to make print feel stupid,” Elings said of Prss. “The way to do that is to add more functionality than print.” Elings believes that good design will make readers excited to read magazines again.
What he believes will most disrupt standard iPad publishing is Prss’s price structure.
Under WoodWing, TRVL had to pay both the licensing costs for the software as well as the distribution costs for Apple Newsstand (30 percent of revenue). Publishers use Prss for free and instead pay a small fee per download. They can decide whether to pass that cost on to consumers or to find other revenue models. Elings would not disclose the fee’s amount but said it was far under a dollar and so far from the current pay models that “it will be funny.”
Apple has developed a platform called iBooks Author to help anyone from large publishers to moms make e-textbook for iOS. But it hasn’t built anything specifically for magazine publishers yet.
What it will take to succeed
Prss will need widespread adoption to be successful. Though the app is aimed at smaller publishers, it will need at least some bigger clients to demonstrate that it’s a viable alternative. Many of the large publishing companies already have their iPad apps and are notoriously inflexible about change.
Or perhaps, like Tumblr is to WordPress, Prss can succeed in being the small and much-loved alternative.
Prss will start its beta this summer. So far Elings says 10,000 publishers have expressed interest, but the beta will start with only a handful of those. The public release is set for the end of summer.
Below see an introductory gallery of how Prss will appear to publishers.