Monday, March 4, 2013

The latest gimmick: digital publishing platforms that delivers less; vendors seek to deliver simplified digital magazines along the lines of 'The Magazine'

Tthe magazine and newspaper business has become a lot like the restaurant business: there is more money to be made selling into the business, than actually being in the business. In other words, it is far better to be someone who sells publishers services than to actually be a publisher. Many of those citizen publishers launching new digital magazines into Apple's Newsstand will soon find this out.

But to be a digital publishing vendor you need a gimmick. The two most popular have been the Flash flipbook, and more recently, the replica edition. These are low tech, dime-a-dozen publishing solutions that take a publisher's print edition and through a PDF or JPG conversation transforms them into something that can be read on a publisher's website or in a new app.

The latest craze is the simplified digital magazine. Inspired Marco Arment, the developer who created Instapaper, who launched the stripped down digital publication, The Magazine, vendors are now looking to deliver... well, less.

The idea is simple enough: you want a digital magazine that looks like Arment's, we'll give you one. As a result, several vendors are now crowing about the ability of their new digital publishing platforms to give you less, deliver less, and be less interactive.

The idea that The Magazine is the future of digital publisher is crazy. Arment's digital magazine appealed to some because he is a recognized figure in the tech community, a popular blogger. The editorial content of the digital publication speaks to these people – I find it less interesting, but then again I'm not part of the target audience.

Just like a Kindle Edition, the design of The Magazine serves its purpose. But change the content, attempt to use design to convey complex ideas and simple text layouts do not achieve the desired result.

(It is ironic that The Magazine came about around the same time the NYT published Snow Fall, its complex website feature that was a tour de force of the art of web design.)

The job of the art director is to help the writer and editor tell the story. Like any artist, they want as many tools available as possible to accomplish this. But only the most amateurish art directors use them all. The best art directors use what is necessary.

But we shouldn't be surprised that there are new digital publishing vendors out there pushing simplified publishing solutions. My own experience has shown that in the end the sales pitch for ALL these companies is "easy and cheap". The idea is that it is "easy" to make a digital version of a magazine using their solution, and ultimately it will "cheap", as well. What a publishing executive should ask themselves is whether the platform is versatile, too. "OK, your system can give me less, but what if I want more?"