Who Wants to be a Magazine?

Something strange is happening in the digital magazine space at the moment. The idea of being a digital magazine has never been sexier or more sought after. The styling, design quality, photo-realism, sharpness and typographical cool of the magazine idea is as strong as it has ever been. Magazines are to die for if you are not a magazine.

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Magazines that want to be magazines

Facebook the 400lb gorilla of social media has just launched a new app Paper. Under the headline “the best Facebook app ever” the Verge says:

 Paper was initially conceived to make Facebook look better, more like the interactive, always-relevant “personal newspaper” Zuckerberg hoped Facebook would be. Paper turned out a little bit differently: the app abandons Facebook’s singular News Feed in favor of several — each containing a different kind of news. One is your regular old Facebook feed, and you choose the others among 20 categories like Headlines, Planet, Cute, Tech, Pop Life, and Score. Each section includes a stream of stories laid out horizontally inside cards — you swipe left and right to scroll, not up and down as Facebook has trained us all to do. The Verge

Facebook’s paper is not yet available in the European iTunes stores, but I look forward to giving Paper the thumbs over. It is an enormous tribute to our magazine heritage that Facebook is now showing itself in the guise of a magazine.

Flipboard which since its debut has been heavily mining the magazine metaphor with its presentation of RSS-type stories in a strong visual page-flip mode, where the photos and videos really stand out, has just gone another step in the magazine metaphor spiral. It is now trying to work as a front end for highly curated and linked stories, organized in magazine-like sections. As Techcrunch puts it:

This idea of structuring Flipboard content more like a real magazine, the company explained to us last week while demoing the beta, will eventually roll out to all of Flipboard’s editorial content over time. Today, the company curates a number of editorial sections ranging across categories like News, Business, Tech, Sports, Shopping, Photos, Arts & Culture, Travel, Food & Dining, Style, Music, Books, and much more. Techcrunch Flipboard Mimics Magazines Further…

Flipboard has always touted its affinity with magazines and it is now snuggling up even closer to the magazine model. Nor are these two major players the only examples of companies outside the magazine industry trying to reinvent magazines as digital propositions. In this last two weeks we have also seen Medium take its first external funding. This is a company that aims to revolutionize long-form writing and blogging at New Yorker-type levels of quality, and then there is Jason Kilar of Hulu fame trying to put together a Hulu for magazines.

What could be better, every ambitious heavily invested start-up in the social/content space wants to be a digital magazine? But magazine companies are trying to be wholly digital but not it seems with magazines. According to theMediaBriefing, Future and Dennis, two of the medium-size British magazine companies are now directing their effort to products and apps that lie outside of the conventional newsstand,  apps that ‘do something’:

These efforts to kickstart innovation outside the newsstand at both Future and Dennis are a response to some basic facts about the market for digital content on mobile devices:

— Paid content:  Only a small proportion of smartphone and tablet owners are prepared to regularly pay for digital editions.

— Usefulness: Lots of people will pay for apps that do something, largely games or tools.

Add to that the fact publishers are competing for consumer time with games, social media and any other distratctions availble in the digital world, and the need for new approaches that break out of the newsstand mentality is clear. Simply re-packaging magazine content in digital formats is only going to get you so far. theMediaBriefing: Breaking out of the Newsstand: Why Dennis and Future are Looking Beyond Digital Editions.

Some magazine publishers are it seems giving up on the idea of digital magazines. Just as Facebook, Flipboard and Medium decide that this is where the digital future for consumers lies. Could it be that digital magazines in general could work a lot better if they were well done? There is something very glib in that phrase “Simply re-packaging magazine content”, simply can mean “Badly, dumbly” or it can mean “Efficiently, brilliantly”. I am not sure that the digital monsters (Facebook et al) will be that great at making digital magazines, but I know that some shrewd traditional magazine publishers are already on track to having a great digital audience. The key to this is to build a very good app, as magazine-like as possible.

 

 

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