Latency, bandwidth, distribution, and discovery for digital magazines


The other day Benedict Evans, who now works for Andreessen Horowitz, put up an interesting photo on Twitter. A traditional magazine kiosk in a newsstand or bookshop with several hundred magazines in the  frame. His tweet:

“High latency, high bandwidth, inefficient distribution, efficient discovery.”

His implicit message being that the industry has changed and the kiosk proposition has changed, because digital magazine work in a different way. Lets take a look at how the proposition has changed, bearing in mind that the changes effect both the consumer, the medium (magazines) and the sales outlet (the kiosk or newsstand).

From the consumer’s point of view one could say that the features that Benedict highlights have simply reversed. Magazines are now instantly available to the consumer who has access through a tablet or the web, there is really no latency when it comes to purchasing or access. This is especially impressive in the case of back issues, where a large heap of digital back copies can be searched and browsed immediately (assuming the app and the publisher makes this possible). Latency is very low there is no delay. Bandwidth also appears to be upending, magazines as digital objects used to be considered rather large, but many devices can now ingest or sync in less than a minute and as memories expand, the individual magazine issue turns out to be a digital shrimp. Distribution is a big change, printed magazines from the customer’s point of view are dependent on an extraordinarily precarious and inefficient process. Either the customer subscribes by post or the customer has to trek to the nearest store or kiosk. On the final parameter: “discovery” it again looks as though the tables have been turned. We hear so many complaints about how hard it is to find stuff in app stores or newsstands, that one might conclude that we now have a strikingly inefficient system for discovering digital magazines. But, whatever its shortcomings, this is being unfair to the iTunes newsstand. Titles are now relatively hard to find in our digital newsstands because there is now so much available to be discovered. If the consumer has her wits about her, digital magazines are surely much easier to find than their print equivalent. So if we look at a typical digital kiosk, I think our refrain would be

“Latency low, bandwidth low enough, super-efficient distribution, discovery so-so” (tweet)


So what lessons should a digital publisher take from this reversal of roles? This inversion of highs, lows and inefficiencies? First, we should check up that we are not publishing magazine apps that take an inordinate time to download or fire-up (some still do, which is very lax, since an app can be designed to fire up and continue syncing in the background); second, digital publishers should be thinking hard about how their apps can be made even easier to find. Discoverable not only by those in the know, but discoverable by those who would be delighted….. It is no longer necessary to go to a physical newsstand to discover a new magazine. The consumer’s device, phone or tablet provides immediate access to an amazing choice of apps and web services. That is a huge step forward, but discovery is still a challenge because the competitive landscape is now vastly larger. Precisely because every title should be available if you want it.