A friendly journalist referred the other day to one of the Exact Editions Apps as a ‘photostat’ of the magazine. One of my colleagues noted that this was a word she hadn’t heard for 20 years, and my wife’s cryptic observation was: “At least he didn’t call it a roneo-ed version”. I was wondering whether this comment was a curious compliment. Have you noticed the way in which ‘vinyl’ has become a term for musical quality and tonal fidelity? Perhaps the roneo-ed Digital Magazine is the acme of approval in an app, and the photostat is just a step on the way to wax cylinder bliss?

Perhaps. But I think not. Exact Editions is so named because we believe that digital editions of magazines (books, newspapers, bibles, periodicals, catalogues, compendia, scores, and print objects in general) should be faithful representations of the digitised pages. But of course a digital edition has to be much more than a simple reproduction. To see the result as a photostat or a mere copy is to miss more than half the point. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the other features one should expect in a digital edition:

  • Every page in the digital edition should be citeable (which means that any other web page, or web service can make a targeted reference within the publication to a specific page on which some relevant content resides).
  • Pages within a digital edition should have links out. Which is to say that a digital edition should be just as capable of being the source of a citation as the target for one.
  • Putting these two points together (citing, and being cited) in effect means that every page in a digital edition will be a web page, a part of the web. Far too many of the ‘e-magazine’ solutions that we see in the marketplace fail in this basic requirement. Many publishers have been using digital platforms which allow them to distribute blobs of content through the internet, but the publications are not proper web resources.
  • This fact about the pages or parts of digital editions being themselves a part of the web also has the consequence that a proper digital edition should be readable/usable by standard web browsers and it should be accessible to standard web operations (eg crawlers, counters, mashups and tweeters)
  • Every page in a digital edition with text on it should ideally be searchable by a search engine, by Google or Bing (should be capable of being searched by Google — though a publisher may decide to withhold content from Google/Bing searching).
  • Every page in a digital edition should be searchable by the edition itself. That is a digital edition should have a mechanism whereby the search for a term can be restricted to the publication itself.
  • Digital editions should also have their own appropriate internal navigation (eg live links from Tables of Contents, Indexes of Advertisers).
  • Digital editions should offer their users and readers immediate links to relevant web resources (eg live links to web resources mentioned in the text).

There are other things one could add to this list, but it is long enough to make the point. Digital editions are much, much, more than roneo-ed editions. I am fairly sure that the early users of the Spectator App which was released just over a week ago, have not yet realised how much coiled web energy there is inside the App. There are, by my back of the envelope estimates, over 200 issues, well over 10,000 digital pages, over 5,000 live phone number links, perhaps 20,000 internal links within the magazine issues and well over 20,000 external links from the issues, all of this is accessible from the App. But the App is not really a product at all, it is a subscription service to a database which manages the magazine for its subscribers. Publishers are all now in the service industry, and digital editions are the service that they should be offering their readers.