Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why Magazine apps need to be Magazines

Stephanie Clifford in the New York Times takes A Peek at Vanity Fair’s iPad App

Magazines are actually pretty brilliant concepts the way they are,” said Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter on Tuesday as he previewed his magazine’s new iPad app. “At the same time, we have a few bells and whistles that a magazine cannot provide.”

That is so true....

Its very important that there are a few extra 'bells and whistles' in the digital edition, but its also very important that the digital magazine should be the SAME MAGAZINE.

There are lots of reasons for this and here are two that underpin the Graydon Carter observation.....

Reason One: Publishers Cannot Afford to Produce Different Versions of the Same Issue

Magazine are brilliant concepts and they are also very complex products to produce. The digital magazine that is going to work on a week by week, month by month basis has to emerge from that complex and extensive process. For this reason we remain at least sceptical about the widespread practicality of the new narrative form developed for the digital app version of Popular Science magazine. If every magazine is going to be deconstructed and then put together in a different editorial context for its digital variant there will need to be a huge investment if magazines are to make the digital turn. It does not look as though the magazine industry, as a whole, has the appetite for huge digital investments. That is why at Exact Editions we have always seen it as our task to enhance the magazine but to respect its integrity. The kind of enhancements that we deliver automatically through our database are -- increased connectivity, lots of links to emails, urls, places and phone numbers mentioned in the magazine. Putting these links into the database and then through the browser onto the page the reader sees (metadata if you like) makes the magazine content more useful to the reader....

Reason Two: Readers Want to Experience the Same Magazine but they Want to do Digital Things with it

The key thing to respect in adding bells and whistles is to understand the context in which a digital magazine is going to be used. That is where useful bells and whistles come in. The user may want to search, the user may want to link, if the device on which she reads the magazine is a phone, then she may want to call the number that is in the magazine. The point about the digital magazine is that the context in which it will be used is digital, so it has to do the digital things well and simply. The same content, the same information but more useful because digital. So phone numbers in the magazine, or urls, should be clickable, and not just because making them clickable helps the advertiser (of course it does that). Phone numbers that you see on your iPhone absolutely clickable to is strange the way that many apps do not respect this basic requirement. Those are the kinds of bells and whistles that users want and need.... but keep it simple. That is the first rule. And the second rule is to aim to automate the process as much as possible. These two rules are of course connected: if you keep it simple there is a chance that the process of enhancement can be automated.

Can a digital magazine be more than the print magazine? More useful, more mobile, more shareable, more engaging, more interactive? Sure it can, but publishers should never forget that the digital magazine has to do all that the print magazine can do for its users, first. The digital magazine should be able to do everything except there is no need for it to be re-cycled through a shredder for use as cat litter or fire lighters. That function can be left to the paper ancestor.

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