Search This Blog


Thursday, December 10, 2009

They're investing in "digital magazines" and ignoring the elephant in the room

All the world's big magazine publishers are hurriedly spending a lot of money looking at ways they can deliver their magazines in some kind of digital format. Note that is not the same as delivering magazine content in digital format. Any clown can do that. That's where the newspapers have really gone wrong. By making their material available for free they have enabled Google and everybody else to unbundle it from its context and lost a fortune in the process.

That's not an academic argument. It pertains to business. When you were selling a page of advertising in a glossy magazine you were selling two things: access to the readers and access to the environment of that particular title. Once you take the content out from between the covers you are no longer getting the benefit of that environment. There's a legendary piece of research done years ago which showed people the same outfit in Vogue and the Daily Express. Respondents thought that the first dress was worth far more because it was in Vogue. They used to call this The Presenter Effect.

The reason that magazine publishers are looking at so-called "page-turning" technology is they are trying to keep their advertising in a controlled environment. The big publishers are spending fortunes to avoid the fate of the record industry. We've started making each issue of The Word available in a digital format to people who subscribe to the paper magazine. It's very early days but it seems to be appreciated. The idea is it's an enhancement of the magazine experience rather than a replacement. We've done a very Heath Robinson demo of how it works.

At the same time Apple are said to be working on something called the Tablet which will do for magazines what the Kindle is doing for books. Time Inc have got so excited about this that they have already demoed a version of Sports Illustrated in this format. As you'd expect theirs is better than ours because it wasn't done on the computer in the owner's loft.

They're still avoiding - either because they haven't thought about it or they prefer not to - the key issue, which is "how can you deliver the core magazine experience, which is essentially sitting back and reading, on a screen?" They show you plenty of neat ways you can manipulate the content and lots of ways they can make the swimsuit issue more like a TV programme, but they avoid that central issue. What if you want to read it?

If this technology ever really took off the first thing you'd be wanting to do is reformat the magazine to suit the technology. One of the first page-turning magazines, the lads mag Monkey, discovered this very quickly. It has hardly any reading in it because there's no room for it. Instead it's videos and interactive games. Digital tends to quick reads, small pictures and interaction. Paper tends to long reads, big pictures and contemplation. If you take that on board you can devise complementary experiences. What you can't do is hammer one into the shape of the other.