The Rebirth of the Magazine

Those in the publishing business have all been aflutter with the official announcement about the joint venture between Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp, and Time Inc.. This story has been relatively well publicized and talked about over the past few months including a few demos of what some of the digital magazines experiences might look like from Conde Nast for Wired Magazine, and . I haven’t seen any concepts for the actual storefront yet but hopefully something will surface soon.

The concepts are similar in that they both replicate the magazine experience to some degree (page based navigation, magazine-like layout) while including the obvious must have features such as rich content (e.g. video, photo streams) and ecommerce (e.g. links to stores for product purchase). However, if this is all there is, I’m not sure it’s enough to get consumers to pony up the cash for subscriptions as well as potentially a new piece of hardware. Remember, much of this content is available online for free so the experience has to be compelling enough to get over this hurdle.

For the time being I’m going to set aside all of the questions I have around the ability of the publishers to work together to agree on a common content format, bandwidth constraints, battery life of devices, etc. and remain hopeful that we’re going to see something very original and compelling. I’m going to tell myself that the features and demos we’ve seen to date are just the tip of the iceberg and that the publishers are holding off from publicizing the new killer features so as not to give up competitive advantage. However, in the event that this is not the case, here are a few suggestions of some things I’d like to see.

First off, resist the urge to try & fit a “magazine” into a digital form. Magazines are great, but the experience created and refined over the 270 years they have been in existence is based on a print medium. For example, is flipping a virtual page as rewarding as flipping a print page? If not, then how have you improved (or at least maintained) the experience? The answer here is likely that they have not and in most cases the experience is made worse.

Instead, look at the core value propositions of magazines and create an experience that utilizes features in the digital medium to improve upon them. There are lots of things to build on here but one of the first that pops into my head are index pages. Index pages give the reader an overview of what is in the magazine but also offer a reference as to what pages specific articles of interest are on. Why not expand upon this and create an index page that spans all of the publications I own as well as specific issues. Doing this would also enable features such as dynamic grouping of articles by topic, person, or event across all of my digital magazines. Teaser content and thumbnail videos and/or images could be offered on all articles (if available) instead of just featured ones. Finally, making the index searchable and hyperlinked should improve the concept of an index page quite dramatically.

Secondly, we all know that luring advertisers to buy ad space in these new digital magazines is key. So how about offering something more compelling than full page, half page, tower, leader board, or any of the other dozen types of ads that currently dominate the pages of sites and print magazines. Please skip the animated overlays that take over my page. They are annoying on the web but probably even more so on the digital magazine – especially with all of the rich content that will be on it.

The digital format should allow publishers to offer advertisers a device with behaviorally targeting ads, comprehensive reporting and results tracking, and recommendations for how I can improve my media buys for future campaigns. For readers more contextually relevant and less intrusive ads would be my preference. Search advertising is also on the table given the global index. For example, a search for all hotels that have been covered in all of my travel magazines could yield links to those articles, inline booking, and related ads such as car rentals, flights, and restaurant recommendations.

Some other items on the wishlist that I won’t dive into detail on are social media (e.g. comment streams, fantasy sports, recommendations, etc), live event viewing (e.g. VMA’s, Red Sox games), one-click purchase & bookings, and personalized folders to catalog articles of interest for later viewing).

I applaud the experimentation and desire of publishers to create a new product in the digital medium. The demos and PR are great. There is a long way to go though and I haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe that anyone has arrived at “the” killer product yet. However, the payoff of a well thought out, strategically placed product could revive an industry that is in desperate need of it.