One path to magazines on the iPhone: Pixel Mags
As the attention of the Apple-loving world turns to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts later today, there are plenty of expectations that print publishers -- newspapers, magazines and textbooks -- will play a huge role in the new world order, providing paid content for users of the hypothetical-but-c'mon-now tablet device.
While publishers have delivered lots of custom single-title apps so far, not many of those apps provide the full printed content of the magazine in the original visual context, ads and all. If you want to see an interesting take on the possibilities for high-fidelity magazines on the iPhone today, you can check out any of the 33 currently shipping titles [iTunes link] currently shipping via the Pixel Mags platform.
The result of the partnership between publishers and Pixel Mags is a very 'print-like' experience, with zoomable pages and easy navigation/pageturns. Pixel Mags is working with lots of publishers (they report 300 titles under contract) to manage the PDF-to-app workflow for new and archival issues of their magazines; the apps are branded with the magazine's look and cost either $0.99 or $1.99, with sample content or a free issue included. Once you have the app, additional issues or subscriptions are available through in-app purchase. You can bookmark your magazines and share your reading choices via social networking hooks.
The Pixel Mags team comes from the print world, so they are focused on delivering fidelity to the original magazine look; this comes at the cost of snappy performance, at least on my iPhone 3G (the 2nd-gen iPod touch & iPhone 3GS are noticeably faster). Loading the full page images is slower than I'd like, but I can see the value of having my entire magazine library in one place, available offline and without download waits.
It's likely that the publishing workflow for the tablet environment will scale up considerably from straight PDF conversion and include multimedia/dynamic controls for publishers, potentially in a similar fashion to how iTunes LP works for album packaging. What we can see in Pixel Mags now is one of the flavors that could go into this delicious parfait of content.