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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Good answer. What was the question again?

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

This clip of some work being done for the Swedish publisher Bonnier is doing the rounds at the moment and causing considerable excitement. It's certainly a very polished presentation. While I'm glad that somebody is doing innovative work in the magazine industry, I can't shake the feeling that it's being done from the wrong end, so to speak, and often by people who have a tenuous grip on the magazine experience.

It's not that the work doesn't have a value. It proves it's possible to replicate all the various elements of a magazine. In many cases you can enhance the basic magazine formula of words, pictures and a crossword with moving pictures, hyperlinks, searches and lots of other bells and whistles. But is anybody asking for that? Is anybody looking at the basic magazine proposition and thinking, 'if only it did *this* as well'?

The experience of the last twenty years teaches that the version of the future proposed by the research and development wing of companies rarely coincides with what the market turns out to want. I've yet to see any evidence that you can persuade the person who currently reads Vogue or Heat that the experience of consuming the same thing via an electronic device is preferable. They may be talking about how they could use such a device to receive daily, even hourly, updates but I haven't heard anything about genuine advantages like that. Instead I hear a lot about taking the basic magazine experience and translating it to a screen. It's as if the magazine business believes it can move from one to the other without essentially changing the thing it provides.

The Guardian iPhone app, on the other hand, seems like a good idea to me because it fits neatly into an interval in our lives. Just as the podcast flourished because there are so many men out dog walking, jogging or driving cars and the web boomed because everybody is sitting in front of a computer doing anything to avoid working, this little app provides the ideal amount of content for the person stuck on a bus wanting to pass the time with a couple of stories. It doesn't need to do any more than that.

The next generation of magazines would be better off working out when and where they're going to be read than designing clever interfaces that may end up attracting the universal admiration of people who aren't magazine readers and never will be.