Digital Magazines and Hope

December 18, 2009

Anyone remember the Dyke Britton or the Graham Blue Streak? These were American automobile manufacturers, and they did not survive. The automobile industry and the magazine business on the surface seem to be very different. First, the automobile replaced the horse. The magazine did not replace anything. The automobile moved people. The magazine moves intangibles stuff like pictures, ideas and cartoons. The automobile created a massive social upheaval that is responsible for fast food and Tata’s cheap vehicle. The magazine created advertising.

Those autos are gone. Lots of magazines are gone. What is happening in automobiles may be happening in magazines. One difference is that I don’t think government subsidies and bail outs will be forthcoming. An information  manufacturing era may be coming to an end.

Now the magazine crowd wants to move from the intangible world of content into the Frankenstein environment of digital information and a physical reading device. Don’t get me wrong. I think the magazine crowd has to find a way to survive. Charging me $15 for a Macintosh magazine from Future Publishing is probably not a recipe for mass market success.

I know the magazine crowd in the US wants to cook up an iTunes for magazines. The idea is that a person who reads “quality” content will gladly pay for certain articles. Well, maybe? When I read “Mag+, a Concept Video on the Future of Digital Magazines”, I asked myself, “Can folks who can’t make their core business work be able to jump outside their core competency?”

I look at quite a few digital magazines. Some like Zmags are quite interesting. Others rely on hardware that is ill-suited for the arts and craft approach to information that seems to be popular today. Even the Harvard Business Review magazine is going to try and be more “with it.” Get out the party hats!

Several thoughts:

  1. Traditional magazines have an editorial slant; today I can get information on topics of interest to me without my having to do much work
  2. Traditional magazines have been trying to be design conscious; today I prefer information
  3. Traditional magazines delivered an audience to advertisers; today I prefer information targeted to my specific needs.

In summary, magazines—regardless of format and media—are out of step with what I do to get information. The concept of a “magazine”, therefore, is going to have to be stretched in a different way. In my opinion, that concept will not have the elastic properties necessary to accommodate the odd shapes of consumers’ information needs. What happens when an elastic sheet is subjected to frequent stretching, it weakens and then gives way.

There you have it.

Stephen E. Arnold, December 18, 2009

I have to report that this is a free write up. No one paid me, but I think I have to reveal this fact to the Internal Revenue Service, an agency stretched thin due to various exogenous factors.


One Response to “Digital Magazines and Hope”

  1. Will Hawkins on December 18th, 2009 12:06 pm

    Hi Stephen,

    The Mag+ concept looks nice in principle. I suppose it is the enhancements that you have to add to a digital magazine that will make or break them, as well as the good content.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

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