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.


  1. Beautiful presentation. For a moment I was thinking I was watching the new Apple tablet, whatever that is, and however it turns out. Apple must being doing something interesting with the interface. Maybe we are only six months away from something like that Bonnier device in our hands?

  2. This is ridiculous. Who on earth is getting 'excited' by this? People who don't realize that a subtle animated illusion is being presented in this video, that's who. Neither the hardware, nor the software shown here exist in any way shape or form. What is shown here is no different to the gerry-rigged 'touch screens' that Tom Cruise played with in "Minority Report' - this kind of GUI simply isn't available yet and if it is, it's certainly not being pioneered by a quite traditional European newspaper and magazine publishing company called Bonnier.

    I suspect that this was put together for internal feel good purposes or to try and quell the growing sense that Bonnier like most of the big European publishers are simply nowhere when it comes to exploiting the new technologies that are rapidly being developed with next to no input from them.

    It's a clever ruse but no more than that. Bonnier don;'t have a tablet and nor do they have an GUI or OS for one. They've got an articulate designer or two and the money to blow on an expensive to pull off trick video - but that's all.

    And, DH, I agree with you, they're barking up the wrong tree anyway. The point about the so called new media landscape isn't the delivery platforms themselves. They will ultimately be proven incidental. Lucrative, perhaps for a handful of consumer electronics companies - but completely incidental to 99% of us. What will matter will be the same old same old: CONTENT and closely following that: CONTEXT - the where and when of our interactions with the gorgeous and sticky stuff that we care about.

  3. I know it's a graphic mock up. That's obvious. ( By the way, the video they created isn't expensive to pull off). Concepts, in this case, are just as important as how the technology is implemented. They didn't just throw the ideas together. And I don't think the delivery platforms will be incidental. The iPod devised the interface for music and video on the move (although as Coverflow was bought off the shelf by Apple, one should say refined by them) and now is the new standard. But it only became the new standard a couple of years after the iPod touch had been in existence. I don't doubt that the Apple tablet will become the new standard a few years from now.

    And I'm in the process of reading Anna Karenina on the iPod, and it's going fine.

  4. "But is anybody asking for that? Is anybody looking at the basic magazine proposition and thinking, 'if only it did *this* as well'?"

    Some of us, yes. I'm 38 and used to buy many magazines monthly in my teens and 20s. Now I only buy one (for a while I bought none). I can easily imagine something like this relighting my interest in periodicals even if (and that's a big if) it did nothing more complex than replicate the linear magazine experience.

    Three reasons come to mind straightaway.

    1) It's convenient (just one device in my bag; lots of content). This isn't a trivial consideration. I have enough heavy crap in my work bag already without loading it with three or four magazines just in case I'm in the mood for one of them. A single device means I don't have to decide in advance.

    (2) It could allow me to discover and sample new titles in a much more civilised way than flicking through them while jostling shoulder-to-shoulder at WH Smiths. Or beneath the scornful frown of my local newsagent.

    (3) It could encourage me to impulse-buy while on the move, just like I often do via iTunes with songs I happen to read about, get recommended to me, or overhear in coffee shops, bars etc.

    Maybe I'm unique in all of that. I doubt it though.

  5. What do you think about the iPhone apps many American magazines such as Esquire and GQ have launched recently?

    I don't think they offer anything really new, but they can be a nice way to kill time by browsing through small articles if and when you don't have access to an actual magazine. Or don't want to buy one – although the apps aren't free, either.

    Of course, long articles and pictures don't work on the tiny screen. And all the "if only it did *this* as well" content (videos and such) are simply a waste of time.

  6. I think I've said on here before that I do subscribe to a magazine (Autosport) just to get access to the feature articles online. So I either read the magazine at work or on my iPhone. The time value of the information is relevant (at least to me) - I do not want to wait until the physical copy drops into my letterbox, at which point I'll probably re-read some of the articles.

    The UI shown here would be great, but it's not differentiating, It's not going to make me buy or subscribe to a different magazine. It might make me read a free one, but that's not really a revenue generator is it?