Republic Publishing’s Nigel Brown, magazine stalwart-turned online journalist and Managing Editor of Humans Invent, thinks that tablet magazines have already had their day. Is it time to concede that websites are the better all-rounders?

Don’t get me wrong, I love magazines. I started my career in consumer mens mags and I will always have a deep affection for them. I love the smell, the touch, the carefully curated approach, and of course, the frantic scanning to check the sub hadn’t spelt my name Nigel Broom.

 

But, since the growth of tablet culture there’s been an obsession with translating this experience online – the digital magazine. And I hate to burst this bubble, but they simply don’t work. They are expensive, fiddly, difficult to navigate and miss one key intrinsic characteristic that makes a magazine special – its tangibility.

I ask you – what can a digital magazine do that a website can’t?

A few years ago I launched a digital magazine on the Ceros platform for the desktop. It was fantastic (in my opinion) and I loved the environment. We had Marco Pierre White on the cover smoking, people walking across the page, lingerie peep shows and all the interviews were filmed and written – so the readers had the choice in how they viewed the content.

Now, forgive me for speaking out of turn iPad mag fans, but surely a website can do the same thing? And more importantly, a website is more flexible as it can be accessed on more devices and is more open to forward thinking and creative designs – it’s not a planned trip for the reader.

The sell

The concept for a digital magazine that you’ll have been sold on is that it’s a beautiful environment in which to curate outstanding photography, words, multimedia and playfulness in an online arena that has a clear start and finish. The idea being that the user journey is controlled and monitored from cover to cover, unlike a website. But the point that it misses is that the nature of how people access content has changed.

People’s digital attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The idea of trying to get someone to read a 60-80 page magazine cover to cover online is unrealistic.

On the flip side, a website can be customised, designed to meet your needs and tailored to create a similar feel, but more importantly, with a back catalogue of content that’s easily searchable and there forever. It’s the modern equivalent of your magazine back catalogue, except most sites now publish every day, rather than weekly or monthly. People want their information, whether it be beautifully curated or not, today, not at a designated time later this month.

Let the magazine become specialist

My view is, celebrate the traditional values of a magazine but leave them in the offline world. Keep it as a classic craft – one of arranging words and pictures into an aesthetically pleasing design that takes the reader on a journey. Simple.

This is still an extremely powerful publishing experience for the right publication or brand, but it offers something very different from a website. I’m really not convinced the digital environment offers any redeeming features for the magazine form.

Magazines need to be touched. For me, that’s one of the most important factors about what separates a great magazine from a good publication – the dexterity, the density of the paper, it’s thickness, and the power of the cover.  This is an important call to arms, but it’s also a reminder that, when I pin my colours to the mast, not everything works online.

One thing that does, however? The website. And don’t forget it.

  • funnelm

    First time Ive commented on a post on ElectricPig, but I was compelled because I think Nigel has missed the point… Digital Magazines work without an internet connection – Websites dont (Unless coupled with some form of offline viewing app / browser which essentially makes them…. a Digital Magazine).
    A website wont work when Im on a plane, when Im sitting in the waiting room at the dentist, even when Im on the train into London (data signal is so patchy).
    Or maybe its just me?

  • Nigel Brown

    Thanks for the comment. There are ways though, which are built into most smartphones, that enable you to save articles and links to read later, and you don’t have to be online. The point I am trying to make is, what is so special about the user experience of a digital magazine? There is a wow factor, which I love, but it wears off after a while. For me, a magazine in its truest form is best suited to the offline world – it’s a tangible experience. You don’t get that dip im, dip out feel online that you get offline. But you do get that with a website.

  • Cassandra

    The biggest thing websites lack is the ability to truly drive the reader experience. The magazine, as Nigel mentioned is curated or call it edited. The content is specially selected to be relevant to the topic with advertising that relates to the interests of the readers. There is a flow and logic the website can’t maintain. It’s not possible to force a web reader through your content in the same way.

    There is also the difference in advertising perception and acceptance online versus in print. The ads are less intrusive and actually get noticed in print. Most of us are numb to the ads online. Experience has told us they are mainly garbage and noise.

    Digital magazine versions are worthwhile or useless depending on the thoughtfulness of the application design. Is it intuitive? Does it give added value in its use of video, search, or social media integration? Some offer the offline reading experience, but others don’t, another factor in the practicality in digital.

    I, too, have an affinity for the printed page. Reading a magazine experience means unplugging from everyday life, including technology. So there we are agreed.

  • Nigel Brown

    Thanks for the comment. There are ways though, which are built into most smartphones, that enable you to save articles and links to read later, and you don’t have to be online. The point I am trying to make is, what is so special about the user experience of a digital magazine? There is a wow factor, which I love, but it wears off after a while. For me, a magazine in its truest form is best suited to the offline world – it’s a tangible experience. You don’t get that dip in, dip out feel online that you get offline. But you do get that with a website.

  • Frank

    Nigel, the point you miss from a publisher perspective is nothing to do with UX but everything to do with revenue, because the truth is people are buying them, and the money they spend is much higher than the value you would get from them from a CPM web-based model. Future Publishing is now even launching new digital mags that are not based an existing title.

    I agree that it is probably a transition model, but it undoubtedly has a good five years or so in it yet. The issue will come when the traditional magazine buying age groups represent a minority of potential audience.

    As a digital-only publisher’ I am thinking very hard about what to launch as a digital magazine.

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