Wheelbase Media’s Jeff Melnychuk

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Jeff Melnychuk is a partner and driving force in the eye-catching designs of Wheelbase Media’s weekly auto pages that enliven the auto sections of some 200 dailyJeff Melynchuk, Wheelbase Media newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. A winner of some 14 design awards, he sees tablets as ” a tantalizing new visual platform for print designers caught between the downsizing of their industry and the relatively creative inflexibility of Web pages.” They are a means to achieve the rosy picture for digital communications described in last month’s Road Ahead” and to offset the boring presentations that make it tough, as noted in that same article, “to curl up with a good web site.”

“With fifteen million iPads sold in less than a year plus iPad2 expanding that base and, considering Apple’s tiny percentage of the computer and cell-phone markets,” Melnychuk says, “you don’t have to be a genius to see that we’re standing at the bomb-bay doors of an all-out tablet war: everyone and their dogs will come out with an iPad fighter.”

That’s sufficient impetus for a major shift in Wheelbase Media’s initial business of selling complete articles, including graphics to other publications as they need them. The company is launching a new subscription-based weekly consumer magazine, Shift, along with a new Shift app available for free at the Apple app store. It will enable readers to see the new pub in all of its graphic glory and enjoy the work of the Wheelbase stable of professional writers and artists. Wheelbase will license the app they developed for quickly adapting content to the iPad.

As Melnychuk sees it, “The Web, as robust an entity as it is, has obvious limitations to high-impact page design since it’s data driven and not graphically driven. You can’t easily overlay text on a photo — you can’t even easily put text beside other text — and the simple fact that browser preferences are such that users can specify their text size means that the effect a designer is looking to create might never be fully realized. With its high resolution display and increasing popularity the iPad platform (and other tablets coming on the market) is a natural for designers to showcase their graphically rich work. There’s an audience and the pages are seen precisely as the designer intended, only better than in print since registration and the colors are not mixed from the usual dull CMYK primary colors. It’s a significant advantage over long, bland columns of text on Web sites or blogs. – as well as an advantage over print with its faster navigation of pages, portability and the ability to store many issues or even volumes.”

Melnychuk and his partner, Malcolm Gunn, believe people will pay for that kind of product. “Product is the key word,” Melnychuk says, since a Web site, no matter how good, is not really a product. Getting “something” for your money is the way that North Americans have been trained to buy. They don’t appear all that interested in paying for “access” to information, which is proven by Web sites that derive their entire revenue by being what we flippantly refer to as ‘click mills.’ And, well, people who surf the Internet think everything should be free. Also, they’re tired of scouring the Web only to find poorly written, unsubstantiated stories and junky advertising that’s more annoying than useful.

“A product, by contrast, is the intentional binding of the content to present an experience. A regular product — weekly in the case of Wheelbase’s new magazine — also creates a sense of timeliness, whereas on a Web site there’s no way to really know what’s actually new, which no doubt keeps some people from ever returning. The cornerstone of the electronic product is solid design as an extension of the content.”

It is not as simple as converting content to PDF, Melnychuk says. “While magazines and newspapers could make PDF files of their pages to be viewed on the iPad, they are painfully slow to load and scroll, Melnychuk says, and, “chances are iPad owners would never know about them to find them in the first place. It all boils down to marketing.”

“Although this still has to be done with an iPad app, a key benefit is that your product is officially exposed to the 15-million-plus iPad users via Apple’s app store.” “Apple takes 30 percent and the more you sell, the more they make, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to be in the store.”

“As a business-to-business company, we really set out to provide an app platform for any publication to build off. Of course, the best way to validate it was to build our own magazine. Although we offer the architecture for resale to other publishers to help them cut time and expense from their own iPad programs, the iPad app was ideally modeled to get our own graphically rich content beyond print and into a new, more robust platform.”

For more information on the new app go to:  http://wheelbase.ws/media/?p=196

Melnychuk says that as new tablets come on stream, they will be evaluated to see if Shift is a logical fit. “Of course, the ideal plan would be to have a completely universal architecture for all tablets, and if they’re smart they’ll want to make it easy for publications to convert and adapt.”

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