The Future of Magazine Publishing in the digital age

On: October 21, 2010
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About Lotte Woerde
Lotte Woerde graduated as a graphic designer at Willem de Kooning Art Academy and finished her BA in Television Studies at UvA. Since 2005 she is running her own graphic design company, called Lot concept & ontwerp bno, based in Amsterdam. As an independent graphic designer Lotte worked together with creative media companies like Glamcult Studio, Technicolor and NOS. Her area of interest concerns the intersection between new media and design concepts and solutions. Currently she is a MA student of New Media.

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http://www.lotontwerpt.nl    

In fact, magazines were pioneers in niche content before cable TV and the Internet came along and usurped them with the flashy video of the former and the interactive communities of the latter. (Glaser, 2005)

It is no longer obvious that magazine content is delivered in the format of a paper journal. Although everyone still reads paper magazines, most people are aware of the fact that the digital era has its influence on the way magazines are published and read in the future. Not everyone embraces these developments. Around me I hear a lot of complaints about reading digital books and magazines. For most people the physical contact associated with consuming news and other information is important. For myself, I believe that,  if a digital magazine is created properly most people will love reading digitally eventually. So, how can the Internet and other new technologies improve magazine publishing?

The first attempts of digitalising existing magazines have already been realised. For the –proud- owners of an iPad like me those developments are easy to follow. Since its release the iPad has been a mayor playground  for existing magazines to offer their content in a digital format. One of them is American weekly news magazine Newsweek. Although the digital Newsweek looks good at first sight, it is striking that in its layout it refers solely to paper magazines. But by sticking to the format of a paper magazine, Newsweek misses out on mayor chances that digital magazine design has to offer.

For instance, every slide of the digital Newsweek is designed like a traditional spread: two pages. When turning the iPad to the portrait mode, only one of the pages of a spread is shown, when it’s in the landscape mode, both pages of a spread are shown. This layout obviously derives from the traditional paper magazines look-and-feel:  pages held together by staples in the middle of each spread. Secondly, browsing the content of the digital Newsweek is only possible by sliding the spreads from left to right and back, just like when you are turning pages of a paper magazine.

Paved roads are always the easiest ones to take, but not always the best. It would have been much more interesting when Newsweek would have thought about the special intrinsic multimedia qualities of the iPad. In stead of paper, on a digital device it is possible to integrate movies, slide-shows and links into the written text items. As well, different ways of navigating through the content can be used, for instance by using pop-up windows.

Other magazines are more successful in digitalising their content. In the digital version of technology magazine Wired on iPad for example it’s possible to browse the content by sliding the pages up and down as well as left and right. Long articles are divided over different vertical slides. The different articles are divided over horizontal slides. This already makes the using experience much more intuitive. Dutch tv journal Veronica magazine takes it further by integrating YouTube videos, pop-up windows and links into the pages. The magazine now becomes a interactive experience. It is possible to immediately by the book the magazine is writing about, or directly see the tweets of famous DJ Armin van Buuren next to his interview.

Aggregators

While on the one hand existing magazines make attempts to translate their content into a digital format, on the other hand the existence of magazine aggregators is emerging. According to Wikipedia, an aggregator refers to a web site or computer software that aggregates a specific type of information from multiple online sources. The type I’m talking about are the applications that create personalised magazines, by using the content from the sources the user likes it to and also integrate the user’s social media. An example of this type of software is Flipboard. Flipboard is an app for iPad, which gathers content that the users likes and integrates his social networks and puts it together into an magazine interface.

It is not inconceivable that in the near future there will be aggregators of magazine content. I can imagine gathering book reviews from one magazine and interviews from another, creating the perfect magazine for me. And put that content in the form I like the most. But when that’s happening, magazines loose control over their context of their content and also over their form.

To keep up with the competition among themselves and with content aggregators, existing magazines need to step up and improve their digital equivalent. They need to think from the possibilities of the digital medium, in stead of simple digitalise their paper format. They will be able to achieve that by integration movies, links and pop-up windows into their digital magazine. They also have to think about the navigation through the magazine, which doesn’t have to be necessary from left to right.

References:

Glaser, Mark. Future of magazines: Net could empower readers. In: The Online Journalism Review. May 24, 2005. http://www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/050524glaser/

Wikipedia Aggregator: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aggregator

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