Paul van der Merwe

Paul started his career as an IT Specialist in 1997 and quickly realised that he is more interested in the software part than the hardware part of the IT world. After about 2 years in IT (Hardware) he shifted his career to the Graphic Design and Printing Arena. Three years later he moved to the UK in search of new challenges where he worked for companies like Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns. On his return to SA soil in 2005 he founded eMagSA a digital publishing company specialising in online publishing and electronic media which later became know as Green Leaf Media. Green Leaf Media expanded it’s services to also include Web Design and Email Marketing. After 10 years in the industry he has left the “rat-race” and took his entrepreneurship to a new level, today he is the Founder / CEO of SARPnet (Pty) Ltd, a software-as-a-service solution provider with products in use by the Sheriff of the Court of South Africa and Legal Professionals. But he admits – “I will always be involved in web and software development (electronic media) … if not in a consulting position, then hands-on”.

Final Word – Digital / Electronic Publications

by Paul van der Merwe (Private Capacity)

It has come to my attention that there is a broad miss-understanding or miss-conception with regard to Digital/Electronic Publications.

With so many different platforms/formats and naming conventions, it is easy to get lost in the true or most accurate explanation of a digital/electronic publication.

See the Wikipedia explanation:
While the term “electronic publishing” is primarily used to refer to the current offerings of online and web-based publishers, the term has a history of being used to describe the development of new forms of production, distribution, and user interaction concerning computer-based production of text and other interactive media.

That said, I want to share my feeling and opinion on the matter of digital publications and what I think the true anatomy of a digital/electronic publication actually is. Please read this article only in the contextual view of the Publication Forum’s Judging Criteria on Digital/Electronic Publications. I will try to explain as we go along.

Back to Basics
One must understand that just because we make use of advanced software to produce a digital or electronic “replication” of say, a “print magazine” – it is still actually just a magazine – just not printed. What I mean with this is – if the production consist of old traditional design and layout techniques, as used in printing – it is a “print ready” magazine, just in electronic/digital format – PDF conversion.

It is important to realise that just because it is presented in electronic/digital format for the purpose of distribution (postal) and print cost saving purposes (or whatever other reason), in the true sense, it is not a digital (electronic) publication. It is, however, classified as a publication with digital/electronic features, because of the electronic distribution method used. This type of electronic publication should be seen as a “value add”, complimenting the printed version and should be advertised as – now also available in digital format.

I understand there is a need for digital only (and the various benefits it offers – if used correctly), but if it looks like a magazine, page like a magazine and have static content. Then it is a magazine. This includes all digital publications not using Rich Media/Multi Media – see “Don’t get me wrong” below.

I do believe that a publication produced, using the traditional print media designing methods, should be judged together with printed publications as the judging criteria is based on similarities – such as Design & Layout, Cover Design, Content, Fonts, etc. Whereas the current “Digital Publications/Electronic Publications” category is judged more on the basis of technologically advanced features used – we still judge the above mentioned print publication criteria, but just so much more.

This is where I want to change the term “Electronic Publication/Digital Publication” to:
Interactive Digital Publication (Rich Madia) – To allow for fair judging in the future.

Only once one breaks away from tradition page-for-page designing constraints, understand and embrace the features and benefits offered by digital media/multi media and technology – one can produce a true Interactive Digital Publication.

My madness explained!
Your reason for going digital should not be for the cost saving on printing and postal distribution. It should be for the benefits on offer by being digital (over and above the savings above – if any). Going digital allows you to do so much more. I list a few of the main benefits on offer:

Tracking and True Analytics.

  • Due to its digital/electronic nature, one can track and monitor everything from unique readership, total readership, total page views, unique page views, time spend on page, time spend on video, links clicked and many more important things that your advertisers will appreciate. Sample: Dear Mr. Advertiser … 5329 unique people read our publication – your add was displayed to those 5329 unique visitors a total of 6971 times, the total accumulated time spend on your ad page is 2H:43 Min, 2492 people watch your video and 427 people visited your website for more information – do you want to place another ad?

Maintaining (keeping) audience attention.

  • By using animations, videos, audio clips and various other digital media/interactive media elements you are almost guaranteed of delivering the message you intend to deliver while entertaining readers and keeping them involved.

Interactive Links

  • Internal and External Links provide the opportunity to drive traffic towards your advertisers’ websites and / or your own products / services. Because readers are already online, they can just click and follow the trail which you want to lead them on. Yes, I know this can also be achieved in a PDF!

Responsive Design

  • Gone are the old traditional page-by-page layout! The screen is your new best friend. No matter the device used by a reader – a responsive design will deliver beautiful readable content all the time. Try and read a PDF on your mobile phone – it can be done, but it is not an enjoyable or memorable experience. Responsive Design is the term used for a design that can change it’s layout to best fit the screen size available.

You see it is not just the one or the other feature/benefit that makes true Interactive Digital Publications attractive … it is the sum of the whole. Most of the time each function you build into a digital publication usually serve more than one purpose and/or is complimenting another function. For example: by including a TV Ad (video)
on an advertisers page, you are giving your advertiser more value for money and options, you are keeping the readers longer on a page (time spend in your publication) and you are keeping readers interested and excited to see what you will be delivering next time (interactivity/client satisfaction/value).

Going digital for the cost saving benefit (on print and postal distribution) is not a valid reason to call “your” publication, a digital publication. In fact True Interactive Digital Publications is more expensive and designers (employees) now have to learn new technologies and software, in most cases programming is involved and they have to think “outside the box” as there is no traditional page layout constraint.

Jeep SA, Amicus (Old Mutual) and various other publishers have a clear understanding of this – ask them for links or google it.

Don’t get me wrong!
If you are designing the old fashioned way, but include rich media and interactive content in your publication and have tracking and analytics – you do have an Interactive Digital Publication. The question is just, is it mobile friendly (optimised for any screen size), does it work on all tablets (Apple, Google, Android), etc. The answer will most likely be – to a degree, yes – but not to its full potential!

Another point we have to raise on this matter is the role and structure of websites. Now that we are closer in understanding the anatomy of a True Interactive Digital Publication we should not confuse this with websites. Because we are treading so close to the border with regards to multi media and technology used, we should not assume the two are the same.

News24 for example is available on both smartphone(s) (as an app – news24) and online (as a website – Although this could be filed under the Digital Publishing “stable” … the “platform” used is the key indicator of it’s true anatomy. Both the App and the Website (web app) is relaying on a database. The content is stored in a database and is pulled into the application (reader). Even though they make use of digital media/multi media, tracking, analytics, and many similar features and functions as per our explained Interactive Digital Publication – they fall under the Web Application Stable.

You can also read this interesting article: Making digital work for print-centric newsrooms.
The biggest consideration in print media right now is still how to make digital work for publications. Lisa MacLeod successfully took the Financial Times through this process. She speaks to Peta Krost Maunder about the little steps towards successful integration.

Paul van der Merwe
Website Designer, Web Application Developer, Digital Media Specialist.
SA Publication Forum Co-Judge: Digital Publications – Websites – Electronic Newsletters.