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 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.