Guest Author: Fraser Crozier - Head of Publishing Technologies for Pacific Magazines.
In the early days (less than three years ago for WoodWing), the company was always at pains to point out it developed software and maintained an arms-length approach with customers via its network of integration partners. This stance, company representatives maintained, allowed the company to concentrate on what it does best—to develop cutting edge software solutions for media companies.
Along came the iPad, and as opposed to business as usual, WoodWing approached some of its key customers and became partners overnight, directly interfacing with senior management, developers, designers, editors, and publishers. As the wave of iPad mania took hold, the requirement to service the burgeoning growth of digital magazines (digimags) on tablets grew, and WoodWing needed to rapidly expand its footprint in the service side of the business. Although the company still maintained its arms-length approach to the clients on the ground (not including the biggest launch partners such as Time Inc.), the company entered a phase where it was offering, and trying to provide, a 24/7/365 service for content delivery.
The rest is really history. The number of digimag apps escalated dramatically as publishers fought to gain traction in this space, and consequently we saw a veritable explosion of content in the form of digimag issues, all of which required significant storage space on a CDN via the CDS. Publishers were scaling out and were feeling the ever increasing pressure to add more and more features to the reader apps to keep it fresh. Clients and consumers of the tablet devices fill a very demanding demographic, so it was not unrealistic to expect cutting edge features to keep pace with the evolution of iOS on the iPad and in some of the Androids.
Now comes the real impact for WoodWing. The traditional channel for WoodWing has been print. It has done a reasonably good job at staying current with versions of Adobe InDesign and InCopy. At about the time the company launched the idea of using Adobe AIR and Flex as a means of delivering a cross-platform client tool (Content Station), the idea of using one content source for multiple output channels emerged as well.
WoodWing invested a considerable amount of time bringing the publishing workflow into the 21st century. The company faced a number of file format challenges from an Adobe point of view, especially with article formats changing between different versions of InCopy. Of course, the [lack of] maturity of the Adobe AIR technology caused various stability and user experience headaches along the way.
So we end up here today, witnessing the recent alliance of Adobe’s DPS and WoodWing’s Enterprise workflow. We see the imminent demise of the WoodWing Reader App and of CDN and CDS, but we also see some light at the end of the tunnel. Several WoodWing clients will face some uphill challenges in the migration from the WoodWing Reader Apps and the CDN and CDS.
However, the alliance is clearly a strong strategic move on WoodWing’s part. Namely, the company effectively outsources two of the biggest headaches it will likely encounter. Chasing the app-tail has in general not been very much fun for the company and a rather complex and pitfall riddled ride for clients. Unlike much larger, slower moving companies, WoodWing was agile enough to move quickly with the trends, but at what price?
Speed to market puts a lot of pressure on the biggest of players, and even with the best of discipline and good intentions bugs get through the cracks. WoodWing is no exception, and I could clearly see efforts to scale upwards and outwards was causing headaches from a development point of view. The rule of thumb is throwing more resources at a problem never works; it just plain takes time to get it right. This is not to say WoodWing was not miles in front of the nearest opposition, and herein lies the attractiveness of WoodWing to Adobe. The company was out there, doing it, and not looking back.
The end result of this outsourcing of the Reader App, CND and CDS is a refocusing on the core products that help pay the maintenance costs of hundreds of print-based seats, who, of course, are all interested in transitioning to multi-channel publishing, but felt the core product was left on the bench. This situation will definitely change, but not before WoodWing gets the Reader App, CDN and CDS monkey off its back. This transition will take quite some time to occur as there are approximately 16,500 legacy WoodWing Reader App issues to migrate over to the new Adobe DPS Reader App.
Understandably, there are a number of critical functional gaps between the Adobe Reader App and the WoodWing Reader App. The good news is Adobe has invested heavily in DPS and is about to escalate that investment to meet the demands about to be placed on the products and services now that the company has just effectively inherited 450+ unique apps from WoodWing. We have been assured by Zeke Koch, Director of Product Management, Digital Publishing, at Adobe the company is placing a very high priority on getting this right from the outset and taking care of business.
WoodWing is compensating its channel partners so the partners are financially and technically supported in migrating clients apps across. This compensation is, I am sure, co-funded somewhere by Adobe in this whole deal.
All in all, the benefits for WoodWing clients are obvious. Adobe will continue to increase investment in this space and has a huge footprint worldwide as compared to WoodWing. There is also the basic-to-intermediate level of Omniture analytics integrated out of box, which is also a big plus for clients who have previously needed to customize analytics integration. It is worth noting the alliance is also a big win for Adobe’s own DPS customers because now there will be a whole bag full of features accommodated that have previously been talked about, but no clear schedule had been forthcoming from Adobe.
On the cost front, WoodWing has always had a much more competitive advantage as opposed to Adobe’s pricing models. For some clients, the difference in the price model is marginal, but several clients will see a price differential of 800% and more. Not a good outlook for these clients, so there are definitely some gaps needing to be filled there by WoodWing and Adobe. There is anecdotal evidence there might be preferential pricing models for WoodWing customers, which I am certain will become a strong talking point by non-WoodWing customers. Democratization of the publishing platform may not extend to the pricing models.
In conclusion, the alliance is something I have suspected since IFRA 2010, yet there really was not any visible movement on it until the last three to four weeks. The alliance makes complete sense considering WoodWing is the longest standing InDesign/InCopy plug-in developer. Also, considering Content Station is based heavily on Adobe’s Flex and AIR technologies, it would not be surprising to find out one day there is more than an alliance regarding DPS. After all, Adobe DPS has always been a great idea in desperate need for a workflow.
Pacific Magazines were the first company to implement WoodWing in Australia, beginning with Who Weekly in 2007. Fraser Crozier has been at the forefront of the technology ever since, backed up by the team at Creative Folks.