The Digital Future of Magazines?

21 12 2009

UPDATE 2/21/10: New iPad demo from WIRED magazine.


When we got married 16 years ago, my wife and I subscribed to 7 magazines and read them all cover-to-cover. Plus, we’d buy more at the newsstand.

Today, we subscribe to just two.

Both pile up, unread, for months at a time.  Even The Atlantic Monthly, which I find both brilliant and entertaining. I feel lousy for not keeping up, but at least I’m supporting great journalism with my subscription dollars.

A lot of very smart people are working feverishly to restore the magazine business back to health.  Some friends passed me this intriguing video from a design house that has a slick-looking approach to the problem.

As good-looking as it is, for me it still misses the mark.

The problem isn’t that magazines aren’t slick enough or that they lack digital functionality. The problems is that magazines are a time-killing content medium in an age when we don’t have time to kill, and we’re already drowning in content.

My RSS feeder of free content is overflowing with stuff I can’t get to. I’ll bet yours is, too.

The Design Idea At 7:35

But just when I was getting ready to close the window and abandon the video, something cool happened. It’s at 7:35 in.

Now THERE’S something potentially revolutionary and useful: little intriguing chunks of quick, easily digestible content in a fun interface. That genuinely feels like a fun experience, and doesn’t fall into the trap of “but it has to feel like a magazine”. It reminds me, in a good way, of the Babelgum iPhone app.

The interface idea at 7:35, especially if some of the items were video, feels like it has the potential to be a winner.  What do you think?

UPDATE: Micah Baldwin, a friend of mine from The Internet Oldtimers Foundation, had a smart observation about the design which he has agreed to let me share:

“(this design commits) what I consider to be the cardinal sin of any web app today. It creates a uni-directional relationship. Its between the reader and content, but doesn’t take into account other readers. Basically, the concept of social. The recreation of the water cooler online.

What if the reader allowed for communication and conversation?

Now, the NatGeo piece I read on pygmies could be shared and discussed with my friends that I know are into the subject. Time and speed are now on my side.”




3 responses

12 01 2010

very good article and the video has some cool tech that just invites you to interact.

But what about that tangible, nostalgic feel of paper? why give it up when you can have a hybrid Magazine!

(see the embedded video there)

13 01 2010

Thanks for the comment, Clyde. A hybrid digital and paper product is technically really interesting. When I think about the senior citizens I know, they fall into two quite distinct camps. In one camp are pure old media types who have zero interest in new technologies and the challenges of learning them from scratch. The other camp tends to dive in and are pretty comfortable learning new things as long as there is sufficient benefit. For an idea like the hybrid digital and paper product to gain enough scale to be commercially viable, my guess is that usability would be the deciding factor for adoption. The learning curve would have to be as close to flat as possible. In fact, the usability research on something like you showed would be fascinating to attend.

22 01 2010
edward boches

This is totally cool. Imagine that we can expect some of this from the Slate. I, too, love magazines but am less inclined to subscribe (except for New Yorker) and have less and less time to actually consume them. Not sure if this will give me more time for magazines, or simply be a good digital version of them. And wonder whether I’ll have as much choice, option and flexibility as with my reader, which like yours, sits often neglected. Thanks for turning me on to this.

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