Adobe MAX: Digital Publishing Suite

The unveiling of the Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) at Adobe MAX interested me more than any other news, since I am a developer who’s also a print designer and I’ve worked heavily with print publications in the past. Unfortunately, we’ve known about the DPS for some time—having had a sneak peek of Condé Nast’s WIRED Reader and The New Yorker months ago—and we still need to wait for the DPS to actually be available to buy next spring (you can use it now through the prerelease program though). However, Adobe revealed a lot and I’ve been looking at the material from both the designer and developer perspective.

InDesign has changed little

I had expected more tools or changes to the publication designer’s workflow, but this isn’t really the case. Everyone should note the Digital Publishing Suite is a set of new services and AIR applications, and there’s just one plugin to add to InDesign CS5, which is required. The best demo of the DPS/InDesign workflow I’ve seen is this one from Terry White, and there is really no changes to InDesign itself. The main points to remember are:

  • Design for the iPad’s 1024×768 screen. This is already available when a document’s Intent is set for Web in the New Document dialog box.
  • Build one InDesign file per article, and horizontal and vertical versions for each if you want it to change with the iPad’s orientation.
  • InDesign’s interactive features are supported, such as hyperlinks and rollovers, but not its rich media features such as video. An AIR app, Adobe Interactive Overlay Creator, can be used to generate this media and the resulting SWF files can be placed in InDesign. These SWFs are converted to iPad-friendly media when the document is bundled.

Creating horizontal and vertical version of your publications is a mild nuisance but it is optional—the Adobe Content Viewer allows for single-orientation publications. Having to create a document for every article and ad seems very cumbersome. I think segmenting one document into sections—already an InDesign feature—would be a great way to keep everything in one file and still separate articles and ads for use on the iPad.

After a document is bundled and prepared for iPad, it will be viewed on iPad with the Adobe Content Viewer. It should be noted this is designed to work with several tablets, including Android tablets and the upcoming RIM Playbook (shown in the MAX Day 1 keynote) as well as the desktop via an AIR app.

The rest of the suite

The meat of the Digital Publishing Suite is in its various services:

  • Production Service takes the InDesign document and makes the final assembly, including the addition of metadata and export to a variety of formats including HTML5. This includes the Adobe Digital Content Bundler app, which Adobe plans to integrate into the hosted service.
  • Distribution Service stores documents in the cloud and distributes the content to the Adobe Content Viewer. This includes a dashboard for library content and reader notifications.
  • E-Commerce Service monetizes the enterprise on retailer platforms or mobile marketplaces such as the Apple App Store or the new Adobe InMarket (also announced at MAX).
  • Analytics Service, supported by Adobe SiteCatalyst/Omniture, provides an impressive analytics dashboard including not only general page views and trends but also the way readers view and read the publication.

A full list can be found in this PDF.

The price

The big news should be the large price tag associated with the Digital Publishing Suite. The cheaper Professional Edition is US$699 per month on top of a per-issue fee that is based on volume. The Enterprise is a totally customized solution that gives publishers total access to the API and integration with back-end services like subscription management, but it’s a negotiated cost with Adobe and constitutes a multi-year agreement.

I think a lot of people hoped to build iPad publications with InDesign when they saw the WIRED Reader hit the Intenet a few months ago—imagine using File > Export > iPad just as easily as exporting to PDF! It would have probably been that easy if Apple allowed Flash on the iPad. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and along with the iPad conversion there’s also the leveraging of Adobe’s purchase of Omniture and the inclusion of its analytics in the DPS. All this makes the suite far removed from the cheap and simple export some people might have hoped for. Instead, it’s priced for serious publishers and its focus on analytics, distribution and e-commerce shows it’s been developed for the business side of publishing.

Adobe tells me they expect to put a reseller program in place so DPS customers can resell the service to smaller publishers and independents at a cheaper price. There’s no details on this yet but it’s good to see Adobe at least thinking about how to penetrate the small and mid-sized publisher market. I know there’s a lot of potential there, as the publishing business in general is full of small publishers and self-publishers.

Participate now

If you want to try the Digital Publishing Suite now, visit Adobe Labs and download the package. You can also learn more by visiting the Digital Publishing page on Adobe.com.