Monday, April 30, 2007

Are Cartoons Endangered?

Daryl Cagle, a cartoonist, posts insightfully on the challenges that traditional newsprint faces from the move towards web-generated advertising. We sympathise with Daryl Cagle in his instinctive reaction that 'learning how to blog', or 'moving to animated cartoons' in order to meet the challenge of the web, does not seem like the right strategy. Perhaps Murdoch's pow wow in California this week will come up with the answers -- to the challenge that newsprint faces.

Notice that some things from the web can help the cartoonist to survive. First, cartoons in digital editions can be very findable. All you need to do is to link to the url. If I were a cartoonist I would do all that I could to make my cartoons findable, if necessary and, in the absence of citeable digital editions from the publisher, by republishing them myself. Second cartoons which appear in print and in a digital edition format become potentially a 'sponsorship' opportunity. Cartoon slots used to carry sponsorship in some British newspapers. Content-sponsorship certainly has new possibilities with digital editions.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Shipping times

We live in Italy and we currently have subscriptions by mail to three British magazines: The Economist, The Tablet and the Times Literary Supplement. They all charge a premium for posting to Italy, and they arrive in a very strange order. The Tablet gets here usually on the Saturday one day after its Friday publication in the UK. Presumably it is printed on the Thursday. The TLS usually gets to Florence five or six days late. Thursday this week. The Economist seems to be the slowest of all, usually arriving a week late, as today. This is too slow for a topical magazine.

I have a sneaking suspicion that The Tablet may be making a special effort over Italian distribution because of its strong Roman audience. Its a pity, in more ways than one, that the World Bank and the Nobel Prize for literature are not also based in Rome or Milan.

It is high time that these excellent magazines had proper digital editions. Then there could be no complaints about slow delivery. They all offer their print subscribers certain priveleges from their web sites, but these repurposed web sites are confusingly different from the print publication and limited. They are none of them a patch on the print products. Sigh.......

Journals and Consumer Magazines - different timescales

There are important differences between the market for scientific, technical and medical journals (STM), and the market for consumer magazines. For one thing, the STM market is almost entirely in the English language, which is not true for consumer magazines. For another advertising is much more important in consumer magazine publishing. But there are also similarities between the two industries and one of the similarities is that the consumer magazine market will inexorably drift towards electronic delivery, as the STM market has already done.

There was recently a fascinating discussion on a librarians list (Liblicense) about a question posed by a specialist publisher: Is it time to stop printing journals? Mark Leader points out that the printing and print distribution part of the operation is really expensive and perhaps little needed. The many responses to his question are archived here (you may need to scroll down the page to reach the 're - Is it time to stop printing....' thread). The overwhelming consensus among the librarians is that the patrons really only now care about the electronic version. One librarian blogged this comment:

We certainly don't need to keep the print to satisfy our user base. Two years ago we stopped getting any print for our ScienceDirect titles [ScienceDirect are the biggest aggregator/publisher of STM periodicals] I did not get a single question, comment, or expression of concern from faculty or students. We've reached the point where librarians tend to worry a lot more about the print than the people who use our libraries do. [see Scott Plutchak blog]
Scott is a librarian at a big American research university, but what has already happened in Birmingham, Alabama, is now happening in every major university. its clear from the other librarian responses that the electronic journal is now what really matters to researchers, whereas only 7 years ago the print version was sacrosanct.

Academics by and large now depend on the electronic journals, not on the printed issues -- and yes many of them, if they are over 50, will still prefer to read a printed version, but this they will probably print out for themselves. All the searching, the finding, the browsing, the access and the distribution are happening through the network. This consumer practice has changed remarkably quickly, and the journals have remained pretty much unchanged as print objects (titles the same, articles very similar, pages the same, design the same, editorial and refereeing process the same, citation and abstracting the same). Its just that the print objects are now electronic resources. The whole business has gone electronic and the publications are arranged, and thought about, as though they were exact digital replicas of the original paper products. Remarkable consumer change is allied to remarkable conservatism about the publication form.

This wholesale change in research publishing practice has taken about 10 years to evolve (Elsevier's ScienceDirect went into Beta-testing in March 1997). STM journals are now primarily electronic. If the use of paper was banned the system will still work perfectly. I conjecture that the consumer magazine publishing will take about 10 years from now to make the same transition. Paper will not be banned, but it will be more expensive and less used. We will still have print magazines in 2017, and they will have significant uses and loyalties attached to them, but the overwhelming weight of publishing effort and of consumer attention will be fixed on the digital magazine.

Two more conjectures: consumer magazines will remain multi-lingual (there are at least 30 languages where signficant consumer magazine publishing occurs) and consumer magazines will remain attractive advertising networks. You can count on it, and the publishers who succeed in the adaptation will be the ones who figure out how web-based advertising can help the consumer magazine to thrive.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Rolling Stone soon to be Archived

The magazine not the band, what a difference an 's' makes. Bondidigital, who have given us The New Yorker on DVD, and on memory stick, are now going to produce 40 years of Rolling Stone magazine in their proprietary digital magazine format.

The complete archive of The New Yorker is stunning value for $29.95 -- that is for 4,000 issues, 80 odd years, but think of all the cartoons. Mind you the hard drive or memory stick at $199 is not such a snip. We wonder why the publishers do not use the web to deliver this archival service. Each week another issue is added to the back issue pile. Juggling 8 DVD's to search the intermittently updated archive of a single magazine is redolent of the clunky, pre-web, technology of microfilm and microform. The price is very good, but the magazine would surely get more value and users would get much more usage if the archival service was bundled in with a current subscription, this is the model chosen by Harpers. Gaining access to a complete archive of The New Yorker would be a totally compelling reason for having a current subscription.

Bondidigital have done all the hard work of scanning, annotating and organizing the back issues, Exact Editions can provide them with a very slick and affordable ramp to web delivery. Invitation herewith extended.

I like this reviewer's comment on the DVD collection:

"...the most visceral pleasure in these discs comes from the advertising. It is so interesting that you can be forgiven for confusing the real relation between advertising and edtiorial content, for supposing that ocean of warm, gray ink existed just to support those astonishing ads. Who remembered that Exxon made an 'intelligent typewriter?'" The New York Times OPINION, Sunday, November 6, 2005. Cited here.

How true. Advertisements have a lot more entertainment and reader value in them than editors or business managers sometimes realise.

Thanks to Personanondata, where I found the Rolling Stone announcement.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Scottish Memories

The fortyfirst title in the Exact Editions shop.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Magazine Launches

Samir Husni takes FT reporter James Chaffin to task for an article headlined 'Time and Hearst focus on new media rather than new titles'. Husni counters with some statistics on new launches:

Even if you exclude the specials and one shots, here are some of the numbers of new magazine launches going back to 1984. Keep in mind these are all new magazine launches with at least four time launch frequency. Starting in 1984 the numbers are 134, 203, 299, 300, 284, starting in 1990 the numbers are 325, 363, 443, 417, 458, 510, 535,459, 518,360 and starting in 2000 the numbers are 333, 301, 290, 454, 473, 350, and 332 in 2006. There is no need to explain any of these numbers. I think they speak for themselves. I hope reporters, especially those in the print media, stop promoting the myth of print is dead and no one is doing anything in print any more

One can agree with Husni that its absurd to say that print is dead; its very much alive and kicking, even trade magazines. But Husni's statistics do suggest that the rate of new US consumer magazine launches is slowing significantly: down from 535 in 2006 to 332 in 2006. That is quite a drop in decade (38%). But surely Chaffin is none the less right in the thrust of his article that a consumer magazine launch now has to have a strong web strategy. That was not true even five years ago. Conde Nast's Portfolio the biggest launch of 2007 has attracted a lot of attention to its web strategy, "The website is huge. It's key to the enterprise," [Joanne Lipman, Portfolio's editor-in-chief quoted by Chaffin].

Neither Husni, nor Chaffin, make what seem to us the most obvious point: a new magazine launch should not really happen in 2007 or 2008 unless the publisher has in place a strategy to launch a compelling digital edition. Most new launches do not, which is nuts. Distribution and promotion are the two biggest challenges for a new magazine and digital editions are by far the most cost effective means of delivery and of promotional sampling. Portfolio needs to flesh out this side of its business strategy fast or it will lose its advertisers.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Kerning and Knuth

Although I started in publishing at OUP (Oxford University Press) more than 30 ago when hot-metal printing was still alive, I missed out on the proper training in print and typography that might have been appropriate at that time and in that place. I am embarassed to admit that I first heard about the concept of kerning, a few years later, when an enthusiastic philosopher pointed me in the direction of Donald Knuth and the mathematical typesetting language and system TeX which Knuth developed.

Knuth is an extraordinarily brilliant and unusual thinker. His home page gives you a flavour of his genius.

The maths behind kerning fascinated Knuth and is touched upon in the current issue of Wired. See the wiredblog for some discussion of kerning and the switch between page design in print and web. Carl, who linked me to the blog, must have been thinking, that Exact Editions would have solved the problem which troubles the blogger here:

The same goes for Wired’s new logo. It alternates between letters without and with serifs, yet the area between each pair of letters is about the same, thanks to the serifs on the I and E and lack thereof on the W, R and D. This equivalence makes the logo easier to see and read across a crowded supermarket aisle. The alternating fonts also make the letters seem to blink on and off as you read them from left to right, in emulation of digital ones and zeroes.

The blogger then went on to make some remarks which get trashed by comments and which he has now withdrawn. Some of the comments are very neat. Designers really care about their art.

The problems would not even begin to arise were it not for the fact that Wired on the web is a repurposed/redesigned/repackaged version of the print magazine. If Wired were on the Exact Editions platform you would just look at the digital edition exactly as it is in print. Here is an example of kerning in the typography of a title.

And here is another effect, shadow type, which can not easily be emulated in a web page design:

Of course it is trivially straightforward to include kerning, or any other subtle visual typographic effect such as shadow type, in a web page which is an exact edition or simple replica of the original print page.

Earnings Calls from the NYT and GOOG

This is the time of year when big US media companies make their Quarterly reports to investors. Here is Juan Antonio Giner being very direct and quite rude about The New York Times's results. He surely has a point? The New York Times is a fantastic brand, and a wonderful newspaper -- the results don't need to be so dismal. The Economist is a print media brand of comparable reputation that regularly gets more than adequate financial results.

Here is another shrewd commentator being very brief about Google's eye-popping results announced yesterday. "Another very good quarter". That is all John Battelle has to say. Its almost all that needs to be said.

Google press release here. Transcript of NYT conference call here.

The NYT complains about the advertising market. One does not see Google showing any anxieties about the flow of advertising spend. Magazines and newspapers badly need to find a way of catching their share of web-based ads. Digital editions are a part of the answer.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Google, Microsoft Live, and Porfolio

Interesting blog from Michael Cairns of Personanondata. Like the rest of you I have been paying a lot more attention to Google Book Search than to Microsoft Live Search Books. But if Microsoft are developing systems which work for publishers interests and also for end users, then they have taken an important step forward. [Yes I know there were two 'ifs' in that sentence!]. Google Book Search is making such rapid progress that it is certainly going to work. But Cairns is right, having more than one digital avenue is really important for publishers and authors.

Portfolio, mentioned the other day, has been getting some ecstatic reviews from Samir Husni, several of them, and a more cautious one from the Printisdead blog. I am not so sure about the printisdead idea. When you think about it, Google and Microsoft would not be investing so much in Print Search and digital editions if they thought it was dead or dieing. So you might expect Conde Nast to do a digital edition? So far nothing there but a repurposed magazine (most of it) and a repurposed, but not permalinked, table of contents.

Friday, April 13, 2007

the philosophers' magazine

the philosophers' magazine has a trial issue with a special feature on Poverty and Duty

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Portfolio is a big new business magazine from Conde Nast. Jeff Jarvis today has an intriguing preview on his BuzzMachine. The magazine itself is not out until next week, and there is then a big gap (advertising dictated) until the second issue in August, when the magazine will become monthly. It looks like its playing in the same general space as Monocle (blogged yesterday), but my sense is that it will be more businessy, perhaps a little less avant garde. The one will have a New York focus/locus, the other a London/European one. Jarvis emphasises the cloud of bloggers -- but we wonder whether bloggers can be integral to the success of a monthly business magazine. The Portfolio web site is broadcasting interviews which form a part of the first issue. Same plan as with Monocle and a good way of giving tasty context to browsers who may decide to buy or subscribe. This comment of Jarvis's gave me a shudder:

Having said that, Portfolio is doing some things quite right. Start with the fact that all the content of the magazine, with the exception of a few difficult-to-translate graphics — will come online the same time that the magazine goes on sale.
Why allow the exception? This sounds like a re-purposed version of the magazine. The publisher loses a lot more than a 'few difficult-to-translate graphics' when a beautiful magazine is repurposed. Loyal readers need the web version of their magazine to look and be the same as their print version. Oh dear. Lets hope that is not what they have done.

Low impact only for a Week?

The Week magazine is going to produce an online-only magazine issue, about environmental issues. The issue will be sponsored by Lexus as a showcase for its hybrid products. According to the New York Times Lexus will be spending over $500,000 on the sponsorship of this special issue.

The extra issue is scheduled for April 20 and will be available online for a week. Its theme will be the environment. That, the publishers say, is another reason the issue will not be the usual paper and ink. It will save, a spokesman said, a lot of trees. (see report in The Press Gazette web site).
If there is any environmental benefit in this exercise, there is a compelling case for producing a digital edition of the weekly magazine on a regular basis. Being environmentally sensitive just for a week is a nonsense. The Dennis spokesman who says it will save a lot of trees is talking through his hat. The Week should be publishing a regular digital edition for ecologically concerned subscribers. That will save some trees.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Monocle is one of the most interesting magazine launches of recent years. It is inspired by Tyler Brûlé, whose previous magazine launch was Wallpaper*

Monocle has a very strong visual design (as one would expect from a Brûlé concept). Black as a cover, which gives it a strong contrast on the news stand. It is also a very ambitious editorial project (as one would expect). It is particularly interesting in the way the web service includes broadcast and is conceived of as complementary and distinct from the magazine. This is a magazine publisher taking a new look at the potential for web services which differentiate and develop the magazine print offering.

Leaves plenty of scope for a digital edition, and arguably necessitates a digital edition. Since Monocle publishes 10 times a year, at over 200 pages an issue, the subscribers will soon need the benefits of a searchable archive, of the echt magazine. This monocle needs a powerful lense for its back issues.

Here are some comments from Juan Antonio Giner. His first reaction was more enthusiastic some of Juan Antonio's screen shots. Third issue is out next week.

Interesting notes from Jeremy Leslie on the tricky art of naming a new magazine.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Harper's and Magazine Archives

Harper's is one of America's oldest magazines. It has a broadly progressive and liberal stance and after a sticky patch in the early 1980's, it has been notably enterprising in its publishing with the current management. Harper's has now produced an archive of its 157 years of monthly back issues. PaidContent has a note about this. The archive is available to all current print subscribers. I could not see an option for 'electronic only' access, but if you reside in the USA you can have access to all the back issues and 12 months of the current publication through the post for $16.97. This seems like a pretty good deal. PaidContent also contrasts the Harper's approach -- of bundling in access to the archive with a current subscription -- with the New Yorker's decision to make its memory stick or CD-based archive a separate subscription option.

It is clever of Harper's to allow anyone to search its archive for free (you will only see thumbnails of the PDFs unless you have a subscription), and we reckon that most magazines will gain more by offering a full archive as a subscriber benefit, rather than trying to develop a separate set of subscriptions to an archival service.

Interesting also, that the magazine had help from Cornell University Library in scanning its first 49 years. Getting good quality scans is now harder work than digitizing them or getting the whole kaboodle properly web-searchable. Old magazines were often printed on poor quality paper and are friable, fragile and hard to handle. We look forward to doing our first century archive -- but will trust the publisher and friendly librarians to organize the scanning.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Publishers Grumbling

Book Publishers seem to have given up on negotiating with Google and are relying on the various court cases to stop the "Do not be evil" Bad Guys. There was an extended example of book-world whingeing in Charkinblog yesterday (reproducing in full (?) a piece by Nick Clee from the Times Literary Supplement -- not available online). Here are some representative grumbles:

A victory for Google [in the various court actions] – or an extension of legal wranglings to a point beyond which its opponents run out of funds – would raise the threat, the book industry believes, of a severe compromise of authors’ and publishers’ rights.
Let me see if I understand this right. Is Nick Clee complaining that Google may have an unfair advantage in the litigation because they have deep pockets? Were these not cases brought by the publishers and the Authors Guild? Google can hardly be blamed if the publishers run out of patience, or money, in the court cases they have initiated. After a lengthy whinge about Amazon and the erosion of territorial rights (for one brief moment I thought that we were going to have protests about Virgin Atlantic's cheap flights facilitating the import of low-priced American editions), there is a very odd final complaint, again about Google.
Piracy will certainly be widespread on the internet. Protecting texts against it is a huge problem, not only because of the skills of the hackers, but also because digital rights management (DRM) systems are unpopular with consumers. However, it remains likely that most people will continue to buy texts from official sources. Let us hope simply that the dominant official source for books is not Google. Or else we shall all have to find another way of earning a living.
This is a completely cock-eyed conclusion, because the the Google method for delivering books on the internet (which does embody the most user-friendly form of DRM) is much more secure, much harder for any commercial or systematic piracy to cope with, than any of the other distribution systems which publishers are using. If piracy is the big problem then the publishing industry should rush to embrace Google distribution. Google Book Search is effectively unusable unless you are connected to the web and to Google: the 'copies' which Google makes are good for a mere snippet. They are en masse useless, unless you have the Google search engine (or something similar which is not at all easy to build).

The potential monopoly power of Google should be much more of a concern to publishers than the way in which it is digitising books. There is no point in publishers grumbling about Google unless they can articulate a better way of doing it and have confidence in their ability to publish digitally.

Disclosure: Richard Charkin is an old friend. He has also been generous about Exact Editions. We think that he and Nick Clee (I vouch for his recipe for lemon whip here) need to represent the way book publishing should be digital.