Publishing Everywhere

17 thoughts
last posted March 27, 2015, 2:31 a.m.
get stream as: markdown or atom

The ideal personal publishing system would allow you to publish the same content in different mediums with ease: personal website, podcast, ebooks, Newsstand for iOS, physical books.

What follows is an overview of the different media we want to unify, followed by collected notes and thoughts on Publishing Everywhere as a concept.


1. Personal Websites

These are fairly well-understood and have received a lot of developer attention over the past decade. Anybody can start a blog fairly easily, and a blog probably makes the most sense as the landing space for most new written content.

Integration between CMSs and other mediums remains esoteric and sketchy for reasons that vary according to the medium. Read on.


2. Podcasts

The presence of FeedBurner significantly lowered the entry barriers to podcasting. Furthermore, podcast-friendly services like libsyn and soundcloud have made it even easier to start without worrying about bandwidth, web UI mechanics, etc. Podcasts also mesh well with most CMSs and blogging services.

Although it is fairly easy to start, however, podcasting requires a significant body of knowledge, and a certain investment in hardware, to actually do well.



While blog posts can be tinkered with and refined over time in small chunks, one of the steps of a podcast is essentially a performance. Besides requiring, like any performance, a real-time demonstration of style, this performance cannot be done in small pieces; it is a far less divisible act taking up a minimum amount of time roughly equal to the length of the finished product, before any editing or revision is done.



Podcasts mesh well with websites and blogs; virtually every podcast also exists as a website.

The inevitable requirement for preparatory notes to be generated early in each episode's production (at least in a podcast of sufficient quality for Publishing Everywhere to offer any potential) ensures that some written content is available to serve as the podcast's representative element in the Written Web (as the text of a corresponding blog post, for example).



Nonetheless -- despite the barriers to entry being low, and despite the fact that podcasting as a medium meshes well with blogs and other, more well-known publishing systems, the medium continues to suffer from a lack of attention by developers, which results in their being obstacles in both production and in the listening experience.

  • It depends heavily on RSS syndication, and particularly on features of that format that are specific to podcasting and not often addressed by CMSs. There remain very few tools to abstract these chicaneries of RSS away from the podcaster. The most popular such tool, FeedBurner, is not being actively developed and has an uncertain future.

3. Ebooks

Ebooks are rapidly gaining ground on traditional printed books. The advantages and disadvantages of ebooks to the reader are probably already familiar to you. I will here discuss the pros and cons for the author/publisher.



Ebooks have the advantage for the author/publisher of being much easier to monetize than a website. People will pay for a e-book. A guess as to why:

  1. They are distributed on channels dedicated to long-form writing
  2. Design
  3. They don't take up space, and therefore represent less of a long-term commitment to books which will probably be read only once.

Ebooks can be published without special equipment.

The medium is receiving lots of attention from developers, who are creating tools to separate authors from the technical intricacies involved.



There are, however, disadvantages.

There is still something of a format war going on. Publishers must support at least three formats and possibly four or five in order to ensure the best possible distribution.

In tandem with the format war there is a distribution channel war. Amazon wants you to buy through the Kindle store, Apple wants you to buy through the iBooks store, B&N wants you to buy from the Nook store. Authors want you to buy direct from their websites so they can get higher margins.

All of this creates a huge amount of unnecessary work for the author/publisher.



In advantages, I listed Design. Ebooks, far more than blogs, are optimized for extended reading.

And yet, this aspect of ebook display is far more neglected among leading device manuacturers than one would expect. Many of the basic aspects of typography which would transfer well to ebook reader devices have yet to make the transition.

  • E-readers still have no well-designed way to handle footnotes or marginal notes by the reader
  • Typefaces used in both LCD and e-ink displays remain subpar
  • Such basic things as hyphenation for properly justified paragraph layout are non-existent
  • E-readers still relegate branding opportunities (covers, for example) to positions of unimportance, reducing books to bullet points on a list and making it difficult for books to differentiate themselves in iconic ways.

4. Newsstand for iOS

Irrelevant until Marco's The Magazine showed us how it's done, Newsstand shows promise as an easily-monetized publishing platform with an audience that is pre-selected for people willing to pay for a quality product.

Unfortunately, since publications are essentially full-blown apps, Newsstand publishing currently requires an extremely unreasonable investment of time and/or money compared with other platforms. Consider that everything in The Magazine could be done with HTML5/CSS and a bit of javascript, but when Newsstand is the platform, you essentially have to write your own display engine, which requires a maintaining a large skill set completely orthogonal to both writing and visual design. Although services exist to allow you to outsource app development, they involve a significant and very un-granular tradeoff between price and control.

Thus, Newsstand remains a very un-democratic platform whose sweet spot for publishers is apparently Objective C programmers who are positioned to source decent writing, and who are able to self-enforce good design/typography.


Feedback mechanisms seem to be another area that hasn't been well thought out in Newsstand (The Magazine included).



The Magazine deserves attention because it is, to date, the only example of a Newsstand publication that might be called 'successful,' and yet it's only two issues old.

Factors contributing to the success of The Magazine:

  • Marco is well-known among iOS users
  • Marco has an extensive network of well-known bloggers to draw upon for articles (relevant mainly for the first few issues, not so much after pitches start pouring in)
  • Marco has excellent design sense and a superb grasp of the medium.
  • Most importantly: he is the first one to bring this level of design sense to a Newsstand app.

Factors that have not contributed to the success of The Magazine:

  • The quality of the writing

The writing in the first two issues has been merely decent; much of it seems barely better than "blog quality". A guy trying to extract "life lessons" out of the most esoteric details of a particular video game. A how-to for wet shaving. A rationale for that opens with a tedious history of Twitter from its inception to date. There have been some gems, but the quality has been hit-or-miss since Marco has had to take what he could get from his network of friends for the first few issues. Once Marco has more writing to choose from, one hopes that this will improve.

My sense is that Newsstand as a whole will become more relevant as established publications with full-time writing and editing staff apply Marco's sense of design to their own publications. The Magazine will probably remain relevant due to its having been the first of its kind, but in a few years, a new publication with the same level of design and writing quality will have a much harder time attracting attention unless from a well-recognized source. Absent some open-source publishing tools or low-cost services, the Newsstand's "app-ness" will ensure that there are far fewer of those than there might be otherwise.


5. Printed Matter

It's never been easier to produce physical books. With a little online research, anyone with an Internet connection can now self-publish a book for only a few dollars.

As a medium, printed matter's value in tomorrow's market is mainly as a lovable and portable artifact. Accordingly, physical books and magazines will make the most sense, and have the most value, when used as a medium for high-quality content which justifies high production values.

We may also expect to see a re-stratification of content between the printed matter and digital mediums. Only those publications whose quality creates enough demand to support the investment needed to generate printed matter of sufficient value will recognize gains by offering that printed matter. Meanwhile, lower-quality self-publishing activity will shift increasingly to digital media as the market for cheap self-published paperbacks evaporates and the market for cheap self-published ebooks expands.

If this is the case, there is a danger that prosumer-style self-publishing print services like CreateSpace and MagCloud will begin to fade away or reorient themselves.

Currently, however, these services exist, and the back-end tools necessary to generate PDFs have also existed for some time. Assuming CreateSpace or MagCloud could be convinced to expose an API, all that a Publishing Everywhere system would need is a UI to configure the generation of a print-quality PDF, and you would be able to click a button and land printed books or magazines on your subscribers' doorsteps.


Impressive examples of 'publishing everywhere':


Here's an example hand-rolled approach to publishing everywhere. Web subscriptions handled as normal (RSS), Kindle and Nook subscribers served directly via email, print subscriptions handled with HP MagCloud.

  1. Compose in Markdown
  2. Publish to Web via Markdown->HTML conversion, paste into CMS
  3. Copy Markdown file(s) to ebook folder, Run pandoc to create Markdown -> ePub, kindlegen to create ePub -> mobi
  4. Place in print folder, run pandoc to create Markdown ->LaTeX->PDF (using separately created templates) which can be uploaded to MagCloud.
  5. Email subscribers with sendy, whose developers assure me they will soon support attachments

Two years later:

The Magazine, Newsstand, and "Subcompact Publishing" all turned out to be duds.

Ebooks may still be relevant for now. But the medium is so annoying to work with due to platform fragmentation and complete lack of open distribution mechanisms.

Personally at this point the mediums that interest me most are (1) plain old web pages (for reasons like this) and (2) printed books (which, unlike any digital format, have actual archival qualities).

Child Streams

Kindle/ePub Publishing Methods

Collected thoughts on methods for publishing serial content from blogs to Kindles and other ebook readers.

These notes have now been fully baked and published at

7 thoughts
updated Dec. 6, 2012, 5:21 p.m.