Saturday, August 2, 2008

Start your own magazine with MagCloud, a cool new Hewlett-Packard startup

Did you ever wish you could start a magazine of your own? on any topic - in some area where you have skills or knowledge, on a personal hobby area? Or on any topic at all?

Now you can - all you need to be able to do is to create a PDF of the content. is a cool new startup by Hewlett-Packard that enables you to publish your own magazine.

Anyone can create a MagCloud reader/subscriber account. This type of account only allows you to view previews of magazines on the site, and to subscribe to magazines (which are delivered to you by post).

You need a MagCloud publisher account to create magazines. Publisher accounts are by invitation as of now, but anyone can apply. All you have to do is upload a PDF of your magazine to their site. The rest - printing, mailing, subscription management - is taken care of by them. (At present they only deliver to U.S. locations, but are planning to ship to other areas too.)

Magazines are printed and posted to you by MagCloud. They use their own HP  Indigo printers to Print On Demand (POD).

They have some stipulations about the way your PDF should be created:

- One is using high resolution images, of 300 dpi (dots per inch).

- Another is that you have to use a specific size of "bleed" - a printing technical term - its something like margins around the edges of the content - in your PDF.

At the least, Adobe InDesign and Scribus (a free and open source desktop publishing software that can output to PDF) are supported as software to create PDFs. Other software may work too.

And, if your magazine is text-only, you may find my xtopdf toolkit for PDF creation, which is free software, to be one of the quickest and easiest ways of creating a PDF for your magazine (at least if you are a little computer-savvy and can use a command-line - you don't have to be a programmer).

All you need in order to use xtopdf is Python and the open source version of the ReportLab toolkit (version 1.17 or higher, but use the 1.x series, as xtopdf is not yet tested with the 2.x series of ReportLab).

Download Python from here (version 2.2 or higher).

Here is a guide to installing and using xtopdf on Windows. xtopdf works well on Linux too (in fact it was developed on Linux, and only later tested on Windows). Basically, all you have to do, on either Windows or Linux, is these steps (in brief):

- Install Python if not installed already
- Install the ReportLab toolkit; follow the instructions given in its README or INSTALL or similarly-named file to see how to install it, and to make it visible to Python.
- Install xtopdf (see its README file for how).

Then you can try out the individual programs that come with xtopdf (such as mentioned below).

xtopdf even comes with a program (written using its own API), to create simple PDF books - look for the program called in the xtopdf download .zip or .tar.gz file. lets you create a PDF book from a set of text files, each of which could represent one chapter of the book (though it is not a restriction that each separate file should represent one chapter). So you could use it to create a PDF for your magazine for MagCloud, that consists of a set of text files, where each file contains an article created by one contributor. As long as you can ensure that all their articles follow the same layout decided by you, the end result will look consistent.

Based on my initial interaction with MagCloud, they seem to be quite enthusiastic and responsive to potential issues or questions of users. For example, some initial questions that I had were answered quite quickly.

Vasudev Ram - Dancing Bison Enterprises

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