Digital Magazine Store Magzter Uses Open Source to Slash Costs

A screengrab of Magzter website

A mobile digital magazine newsstand goes the open source way to cut its initial investments, and allow publishers to share digital editions of their periodicals with a widely-dispersed global readership.

Magzter is a mobile magazine newsstand that was launched in June 2011. It has added over hundred publications like India Today, Femina and Tehelka, apart from other international titles, and is accessible to over 500 million users globally.

Using open source solutions was a priority right from the day Magzter was launched, as one of its main concerns was to keep costs low. As a result, the organisation claims to have saved approximately 90 per cent on its initial investment by avoiding the licenses associated with proprietary alternatives.

The organisation initially started a few years ago with two divisions — software development, and a south Indian film magazine, Galatta Cinema. It was also a time when mobile devices were evolving into smartphones. The organisation decided to take advantage of mobile application development and share the magazine Galatta with its NRI readers in the Middle East, USA and Canada.

Seeing that the application was a tremendous success, Magzter’s promoters decided to use this as a business opportunity. The team considered hosting other publications and sharing their digital content with readers across the world. Now, Magzter works like a digital magazine stand that allows readers to buy, read, or browse any periodical they like on their tablets or smartphones, regardless of their location or where the magazine is published.

Open source in Magzter

The organisation wanted a cost-effective way to host these magazines. Moreover, it already had a team with open source expertise. Magzter decided to go in for a LAMP backend (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). The magazines uploaded by publishers feature not just text and photographs — audio and video files are also inserted as digital content.

Magzter required an application to make such content with a variety form factors, including the different screen sizes of tablets, laptops, netbooks and mobile phones. For this, Magzter developed a rendering engine using open source, called MagCRT cloud technology. This runs on the Amazon cloud with Service-Oriented Architecture (SoA).

Vijayakumar Radhakrishnan, co-founder and CTO of Magzter, explains, “When a device like a smartphone or a tablet sends a request for a magazine from the cloud, MagCRT first analyses the form factor of the device, and renders the content according to its screen size. In simpler terms, it makes the magazines compatible with screen sizes of various devices and platforms, including Apple iOS (iPad/iPhone) or Android (Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Xoom, Dell Streak, Google Nexus S). Hence, the content that you finally see on your device, i.e., the pages and videos, are resized to suit your screen.”

The core development of MagCRT took about 15 months, and it is still evolving to suit the needs of the latest smartphones available in the market.

Why open source worked for Magzter

Keeping the costs low was Magzter’s first priority, and it cut costs on its initial investments and licenses by using open source. “Another factor that brought down our costs is our own team with open source expertise. The solutions were developed in-house, and the team also takes care of the support. This way, our only expense is hosting on the cloud. Meanwhile, using open source also means fewer bugs and faster patches. So far, there have been no risks involved, and we hope we never have to face them,” shares Radhakrishnan.

Ultimately, Magzter zeroed in on open source solutions because the team felt the open source stack was robust and flexible, and it had the ability to run on the Amazon cloud. Radhakrishnan adds, “The other alternative we considered was .NET, but back then, it did not have the ability to run on the Amazon cloud. Open source also proved to be scalable on the cloud, as the number of magazines distributed by Magzter grew from one to 100 in just three months.”

Since Android and iOS are the most popular operating systems used today, Magzter equipped itself with the latest Mac machines (to develop iPhone and iPad applications) and with ten types of Android phones for the product to be tested before any version was released in the market. All the mobile applications of Magzter are developed native to the platform, like the iPhone SDK/Object C, the Java/Android SDK, etc.

The way ahead

Magzter has a good portfolio of Indian publishers, and aims to build on its global clientèle. Lately, it has acquired clients like Grazia, Inc. and Hello!.

“We are working on acquiring more international clients, and we plan to expand our presence in Asia, Europe and the US. As we keep adding names to our magazine store, we aim to continue developing applications to suit newer form factors in the market,” Radhakrishnan concludes.

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