What’s wrong with digital magazines?

One of the things that I was really excited about when I purchased (well, was lovingly gifted) my iPad was the ability to tap into the new world of digital magazines which was soon to sweep over the tablet world. I checked out the economist, the atlantic, the new yorker and HBR and truthfully was pretty unimpressed by the experience. Really these new magazines haven’t moved any further than the hyperbooks that were bandied around in the early nineties when CD-ROMs first became standard. The only mag I’ve looked at so far that begins to touch on what a digital magazine so far is PROJECT from Virgin and Richard Branson (but that has some pretty big flaws).

Although the potential for these publishing platforms is amazing, but there’s a long way to go. I see three major areas where these electronic magazines need to improve for them to bring the concept of digital magazines in line with (my) expectations. They are: content; community; technology

Content

In today’s web connected world, we’ve become used to a constant flow of content, daily updates and live content yet all digital mazagines that I’ve used so far work purely on a basis of blocks of content, distributed in a periodic “issue” that directly mirrors the format of print.  Why have we translated this metaphor directly into the digital realm?  I do believe in the power of really well written content that by definition will be static (with the exception of comments), but surely there must be some way of incorporating into each issue some live content or topics rather than static reports and articles?

Community

With the exception of the commenting in PROJECT (which unfortunately requires you to jump artificially to another section with no feedback telling you if a comment even exists) none of the digital magazines I’ve played with have any concept of social or community (PROJECT doesn’t have a twitter account WTF!).  Surely, publishers can think about some interesting ways to engage their communities around their content.  I can think of a few ways they could make community important for a lot of content types that are currently static:

  • turn digital cosmopolitan’s surveys into digital ones with some stats to start with (actually do cosmo readers care about statistics?)
  • Product/film/music reviews could include reader stats and comments (I’m sure you could make some money from iTunes here too…)
  • “liking” articles, comments, starring.  You know, things blogs have had for a couple of years now?

Technology

Why does each issue of PROJECT require a 500MB download and take 15 minutes to install?  It’s quicker to walk to a newsagent and buy a copy of Wired than it is to get the digital issue?  If I have 20 issues of magazines in my iPad (assuming I have a 16GB one and some other stuff on there) I’m screwed, and to be honest I don’t really see that much digital whizzbangery and amazing video content.

Platforms like Zinio make it cheap and easy to make digital download apps, they also make it really easy to be lazy with your content technology.  Having a few touchy bits and some daggy embedded video isn’t really mindblowing (I remember seeing such stuff in PDFs about 8 years ago).

Content producers clearly need to start looking at their magazine platforms as true applications, and by putting time, effort and money into these platforms they are sure to see some advantage over their competitors (and maybe even onsell the tech for a tidy profit).  In the meantime though, where the hell is search?

In conclusion, wake up or I’m going back to analogue…

I’m a relatively heavy consumer of content in print, paid and free digital content, yet currently I get more pleasure from reading print magazines than digital. I think content, community and technology is key to making digital magazines work and that publishers need to see that their future is digital and investing in development and innovation on their publishing platforms is going to pay dividends into the future.

Advertisements