Adobe InDesign CC 2015 review
Desktop publishing used to be a battle between Adobe and Quark. The latter has by no means retired from the field, but it’s conceded the middle ground and marched off to consolidate its pocket empire of process-focused, multi-platform publishers and corporate communicators.
And Adobe is left, Starship Troopers-style, fighting a rearguard war of attrition against the death of print while stumbling forward into the new world of digital.
So here’s Publish Online, the most striking new feature of InDesign CC (2015) – although, in a pattern that’s rapidly becoming familiar, it’s not actually finished. Currently available as a “technology preview”, aka public beta, it’s a simple and promising way to put a magazine issue, illustrated book, brochure or catalogue on the web, where anyone can view it in a browser.
Starting from an existing document, all you have to do is select Publish Online (Preview) from the File menu and choose which pages to include. You can output single pages or spreads; I’d have liked an option to show single pages when the viewport is portrait and spreads when it’s landscape, or to let the reader decide.
The 128-page image-heavy publication I used for testing uploaded surprisingly quickly over a fast broadband connection, with JPEG quality set to Medium in the Advanced options. But it’s worth noting that there’s currently no option to make uploads private. This hit me quite hard when I realised I’d just released 128 pages of copyrighted material on an open URL.
Fortunately, a web dashboard – also available from the File menu – lets you delete publications. Eventually it might do more, but at the moment facilities are basic: publications are hosted by Adobe, and there’s no embedding, nor any way to update a previously published file. Hopefully these features are coming.
Your publication appears with a web interface similar to magazine apps produced using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Solution (DPS, formerly Adobe Digital Publishing Suite). A simple navigation bar at the foot of the screen offers icons to zoom in and out or show thumbnails of all pages.
Flicking through a publication using the cursor keys is impressively quick. I saw no lag in page turns on the desktop, and just a little on mobile. The interface hasn’t been fully optimised, though; iOS Safari’s chrome appeared over the navigation bar, for example. The value of the whole exercise will depend heavily on how native Adobe manages to make it feel.
And what you see – in the browser rather than a dedicated app – is a PDF-like render of your exact layouts, not an HTML/CSS or EPUB FXL approximation. Everything looks exactly as intended, give or take a few rendering glitches.
Basically, Publish Online just works. Publishing page-turn PDF-style documents to the web is hardly new – services such as Ceros, Issuu and Publitas have been doing it for years – but being able to do it so easily, neatly and, apparently, free of charge is significant.
Ways of publishing
It’s unclear whether Adobe also intends to provide the discovery, search and sharing functions that other online-publishing platforms compete on. At the moment, there’s just a button to post the link on Facebook, which is hardly a traffic strategy. Your online publication’s text isn’t exposed to search engines, and nor can users find content within it. Even hyperlinks in the document don’t work, although presumably they will eventually.
And outbound hyperlinks would be the only obvious way to make money with these online publications, since Adobe doesn’t display ads in the interface (although it doesn’t discourage the inclusion of your own ad pages).
It’s frustrating, but despite Publish Online’s self-evident potential for getting app-style online publications out of the door quickly and cheaply, it seems that – at least for now – Adobe wants to keep things simple.
For those who do want to earn a crust, there’s still DPS. As one of the longest-established app-publishing platforms, and fully integrated into InDesign, DPS has had plenty of uptake. But there are signs that its era is waning.
That’s partly because paid magazine apps haven’t caught on in the way the publishing industry hoped, and partly because DPS is too expensive. Adobe’s prices were initially high, progressed to very high but with cheaper options, and have now settled at high and opaque. Fees are “on application”, but think four figures a year plus four figures per publication and you’ll be right on track.
The only chink of light was Single Edition, a fee-free way to publish one-off apps, but this was acrimoniously discontinued earlier this year. It’s now effectively been replaced by Publish Online, which can’t be use to create apps anyway
The bigger question is why publishers would want to create an app anyway. The one advantage of apps is that you can charge money for them. But they silo your content where only existing customers can see it.
Whether this fundamental problem can ever be overcome is an increasingly urgent question. Maybe we’re all wasting our time with app publishing, and content belongs on the open web. Then again, we have to eat. So Adobe has also announced a major revamp of DPS, which has just become available to try at beta.publish.adobe.com.