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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged magazines

Issue 16 of Offscreen magazine is now available. It’s a beautiful print magazine all about the digital industry, which I’ve been happily reading for the last couple of years. If you’re interested in online, but still a lover of great print magazines, it’s well worth a look. (I mentioned it in passing a few months back.)

The new issue is a complete redesign, and the editor Kai Brach supported himself through the redesign and rebrand phase, via crowdfunding (I was a backer). And this is how it looks:

Offscreen 16 cover

Offscreen 16 laid flat

A typical Offscreen spread

Here’s what’s different:

Both the website and the magazine have undergone a complete visual overhaul. The new design comes with a lighter footprint, thanks to simplified typography (just one type family), more white space, a brighter colour scheme, and quirky, hand-drawn illustrations by Agnes Lee that add a personal touch.

We made the new issue a little smaller so it feels even more like a book. Instead of the standard Perfect Binding that makes the magazine hard to keep open, Offscreen now has an open, lay-flat stitch binding that offers an improved reading experience.

I should get my copy sometime next week. You can grab your copy from the Offscreen website (and you can sign up for a subscription, too), or buy it in person via specialist magazine stores like Magculture in London or Magazine Brighton.

The New York Times has redesigned the opening spread of the print edition to make it more of a digest of everything the outlet is doing across all media. So, yes, that include capturing the best of its journalists’ tweetstorms on there. Laura Hazard Owen interviewed Jake Siverstein who led the design work:

But we also recognized that there were some important functions this page could play — not only warming people up but offering a dashboard of the huge scope of activity that’s going on in the world of The New York Times on any given day. That scope has expanded in recent years to take in not only what’s happening in the print paper and videos and podcasts and various institutional social media accounts, but also our live journalism, and all of our journalists’ own social media accounts.

This is a tentative step in the direction pint newspapers will need to move if they are to survive, in the era of 24/7 online news. Once you acknowledge that the print edition is no longer the “breaking news” vehicle, but, essentially, a daily summary of what you need to know, then you can design outwards from that idea.

Why newspapers should take design cues from magazines

Interestingly, Silverstein comes from the New York Times Magazine (he’s editor-in-chief) – and this is much more magazine thinking than newspaper thinking. Silverstein again:

Part of the goal was to create something that was entirely visible in one open spread of the newspaper, that used some of the rhythm and pacing and design of a magazine front-of-book — the difference being that the whole front-of-book is laid out before you turn any pages, so your eyes can wander around small content and small features, latch on to one thing and then drift over to the next thing. There’s something leisurely and pleasurable about that. It’s kind of an appetizer course before you get to the rest of the paper.

And that’s what print newspapers are becoming: daily magazines.

Ello, the social network you’ve forgotten about, is to launch its own magazine:

Not For Print will help bring the best of Ello into the real world with a tangible, show-it-off-on-your-coffee-table magazine featuring the art of 50 creators on Ello. And we want to see your work in it! Not For Print is another way Ello is committing to provide visibility and opportunity for our incredibly talented community.

I’m sure it’ll be a high quality effort.

And to make a rad fucking magazine.

Well, fairly sure.

During one of my lecturing sessions at City, University of London last week, I made the point that just because you’re most associated with digital, doesn’t mean you don’t – and can’t – love print, too.

That’s certainly the case for me. My first love was print, and two decades ago, my major goal was to be a print magazine editor by the time I was 30 (a goal I only missed by a year or so). There’s no doubt that the advent and growth of the web has changed how I perceive print. More than that, it’s changed how I consume print. About 10 years ago, print started a precipitous decline in my life, one that was only hastened by the iPad and the Kindle.

It’s rare that I pick up a printed book or newspaper these days. But I’m buying more magazines than I ever have – they’re just better and more expensive.

In that sense, I’m an addict. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is my dealer:

The Magculture shop on St John Street, London

The Magculture shop seen above sits just down the road from City – which, in its journalism department, probably has one of the greatest concentrations of print enthusiasts left in the country. And it’s chock full of the sort of magazines I actually like. Big. Thick. Printed on good quality stock. Limited adverts. Superb design. Sticker shock prices.

Mmm.

magazines-on-magazines

Here’s my theory about the long-term future of print: it’s going to turn into theatre.

Film and TV and YouTube have progressively relegated theatre from a mainstream entertainment form to one that’s much more specialised. In essence, theatre has split into upmarket, expensive “occasion” shows – and cheap, experimental “theatre above a pub or in a warehouse” efforts. The rise of these specialist – almost, dare I say it, artisanal, magazines is a sign that the former is well on its way to coming true.(I believe the correct term is “independent magazines”, but I dislike using it, because of bad school memories of “indie label” record snobs.)

Aggressively niche – and aggressively priced

Many of these magazines are aggressively niche compared to the mainstream titles you see lining the walls of WHSmiths. I have two devoted to artisan coffee culture within easy reach of me right now. One of my absolute favourites is a magazine devoted to online culture:

Offscreen Mag

Yes, that’s a print magazine about digital. How can you not love that?

Like so many of its ilk, it’s not full of adverts – it has a handful of “supporters” who get a section in the middle – and it costs around £10, which is double – or more – most high street titles. But for that money, you get better design, better photography and an all-round excellent experience.

This is the Doctor Who theory of print – it’s not dead, it’s just regenerating. And much like the new series of Doctor Who that came back in the mid-2000s, it has much higher production values than its predecessor.

Magazines and magazines and magazines

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about some of my favourite artisanal magazines, and the reason I like them. But for now, it’s always worth remembering that being digitally-focused doesn’t mean you can’t love print, any more than beings a TV fan means you have to shut film and theatre.

It’s very rare that a new medium will kill old media. But it almost always changes them.

Of all the things I expected to find in the WHSmith in Clapham Junction, this was not one of them:

Blogosphere Magazine on sale in WH Smith

Blogosphere? (Top shelf, right hand side.) There’s a word I haven’t heard – or used – in a long, long time. It’s a magazine that is

for bloggers by bloggers

Well, nearly 15 years in, I’m pretty sure I count as a blogger, so I picked up a copy. A £5 gamble based on nothing but a much-mocked piece of jargon. Get in there.

An indy mag at a mainstream price

It’s a curious beast this magazine. It has the feel and heft of an independent magazine – the sort of thing you’d find lining the walls of magCulture, and which you’d expect to cost around a tenner. But it’s very much priced as a mainstream mag. There’s a limited range of adverts – but some big brands are represented there, including Canon and Olympus, who seem like a good match for the target audience.

Talking of target audiences – who do they seem to be? I’d say it was clearly targeted at blogger and would-be bloggers, with a side order of blog readers. It’s a stark reminder that lifestyle blogging has become so pervasive that the audible of creators and wannabe creators (however oxymoronic that may seem) is sizeable enough to be a targetable niche in its own right.

If you want an example of this in action – check out a post on a major fashion blog, where all the commenters seem to be bloggers themselves. For example:

Wendy's Cookbook comment linkers

There’s an interview with the editor and founder on Passion Pods which I listened to this evening while preparing dinner for the family. It wasn’t a great surprise to hear that Alice Audley probably identifies more with the label “journalist” than “blogger” – she started blogging because she was told it was a good route into journalism, and she worked at The Telegraph before quitting last summer to run Blogosphere full time. The whole enterprise is a very journalistic take on blogging – right down to the absence of the magazine’s content on the website. That’s intentional, it transpires – Audley subscribes to a variation on the “original sin” theory about the tribulations of journalism: we shouldn’t give away what we expect people to pay for in another medium.

Regular readers will know what I think of that…

A slice of the blogosphere

Incisive wisdom on choosing your friends

Despite the title, Blogosphere is very much just about a small slice of the blogosphere. Don’t expect to find any trace of political, business or science blogging between its quality stock paper pages. This is lifestyle blogging all the way. In fact, I wonder how aware of the wider history and role of blogging the core team are. Audley describes a blogger who kicked off in 2006 as a “pioneer” in the Passion Pods interview – I wonder how the 1999-era pioneers whom inspired me to start back in the early 2000s would react to that idea.

But, this really doesn’t matter. This is a quasi-independent magazine with a mainstream price, targeting that band of aspirational lifestyle, food, fashion and travel bloggers that are much of the growth in blogging at the moment. It’s almost like Bloglovin’ came to life, and was then incarcerated in the pulped corpse of dead trees.

And the general design ethos of the magazine reflects that audience. There are some lovely sketches used to differentiation some sections:

Blogosphere's agony aunt

It’s got that young, urban, almost-hipster-but-not-quite vibe of lifestyle blogging, even if some of the featured bloggers are nearly as old as me…

Blogging with ink and paper

Profiling bloggers

A surprising chunk of the magazine is taken up with single page profiles of various bloggers. On one level this is fascinating – each is a mini-interview in its own right, and so you get some interesting insights into motivations and interests. On the other, it’s slightly frustrating. You end up sat there with the magazine in one hand and your iPad in the other, typing in URLs to check out the sites. This is where I longed for better online version of the content. It would allow you to separate the “lean back” enjoyment of reading the print product from the “lean forwards” checking out links.

The majority of the content is as lifestyle-y as its target audience – profiles of significant players. for example. This should give you a taste of the general tone:

There’s some advice on blogging, too, of variable quality. Some of its is sound and good practice while, for example, some of the SEO advice is at the very least, questionable, if not actively wrong.

It’s split into six sections:

  • beauty
  • fashion
  • food
  • travel
  • lifestyle
  • photography

Each is curated by a blogger know for their work in that space.

But the surprising thing about it is the sheer heft of the magazine – this is a 162 page behemoth, with only a small number of ad pages. It’s published quarterly – and that’s probably a good rate given the sheer amount of content on offer.

Verdict

Will I buy more of Blogosphere? Oh, yes.

Look: I’m not in any way part of the target audience. The tag line “for bloggers by bloggers” would be more accurately rendered as “by a subset of bloggers for a subset of bloggers who aspire to be like that first group”, and I’m not any part of that. But the magazine sits at the heart of that cultural zeitgeist in blogging, and it’s useful to me in my work because of that.

Plus, it’s a bloomin’ lovely magazine. And magazines were my first love, personally and professionally. It’s nice to see my two passions, one former, one current, mingle in this way.

Further Reading

It’s gonna be a tough year for magazines, says a McKinsey report

Magazine’s failure to build complementary digital products is hurting them badly…

In fact, according to a new report from global consulting firm McKinsey, every category of media—from cinema to educational publishing to video games—should see an increase in consumer spending in the next few years.
Every category, that is, except magazines.

In many cases, their room to innovate in digital has been reduced by the number of pure digital players eating their lunch. It’s a tough picture: but is it the endgame?

Loaded issue 1

Private Frazer laments the troubled later life of Loaded, rather than its recent demise:

Because the tawdry and constipated magazine that has just closed bears no relation (other than the title) to the original Loaded. Love it or loathe it, the 1994 incarnation was sui generis – gonzo journalism reborn for the ’90s – and not even its creators knew what made it work (as the less than fabulous subsequent career of James Brown shows).

I read the very first issue of Loaded, back at the tail end of my students days. I remember sitting in a common room in one of the halls of residences, devouring it. For a guy in his early 20s it was a seductive view of the world, distinctly male, without being laddish (that would come later). A little danger, without cruelty. The gonzo comparison is an apt one – it had a glorious, debauched style of writing that was confident without being arrogant. I looked at it a decade or so later, and it had just got tawdry.

I think we can genuinely say we won’t see its like again – with the print (non-porn) men’s mag sector pretty much down to GQ and Esquire, anything new in the space will be a digital launch, and a very different beast.

Khoi Vihn, designer and former New York Times staffer, as part of his lukewarm response to the new New York Times magazine:

It’s also true that part of my objection owes to the fact that I find the magazine format less than enthralling these days. With few exceptions, it’s my experience that magazines generally can’t justify why all of a given issue’s content is bundled together, why I need to bother with the obvious filler that so often consumes the “front of the book,” and why so many long format stories are as long as they are.

It’s an interesting perspective. I think his comments certainly hold true – at least for generalist magazines, like newspaper supplement magazines tend to be. Niche magazines have a greater reason to exist, and have a clearer focus, meaning that all sections of it tend to have at least some appeal.

Now is not a good time to be in the generalist magazine business.

Newsstand 2014 ios8

Interesting piece from a couple of months ago, on the faltering pace of change in tablet magazines. It makes a good case for what’s gone wrong – and an even more compelling one for some missed opportunities:

A successful tablet magazine requires a complete restructuring. “It makes no sense to me that Conde Nast and Hearst, with so many titles, have been unable to present consumers with the opportunity to mix and match from those titles,” Zeff said. “That type of curation is what we do every day with our Facebook and Twitter feeds. We pick and choose where we’re going to get our information and if there’s something we don’t like, we mute it.”

I think it’s inarguable at this point that there are two major issues as well as the ones listed in the article:

  1. Too many publishers just “shovelling” their magazine editions onto the tablet without thoughtful format changes – poor user experience keeps people from coming back
  2. Apple’s Newsstand becoming less and less useful with every release of iOS.

As Glenn Fleishman wrote, reflecting on the up-coming demise of The Magazine – one of the few tablet magazines that genuinely did something different – Apple has really made it hard to like Newsstand:

Finally, Apple turning apps in the Newsstand essentially invisible curtailed any possibility of a revival. Marko Karppinen wrote sensibly in October 2013 that his publishing platform firm could no longer recommend to its clients that they develop new publications to appear in the Newsstand: “Once downloaded, Newsstand publications are hidden away within the Newsstand app.” If I moved my app out of the Newsstand, all the in-app subscriptions would have been cancelled, dooming it.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the general idea of magazines will survive – most of the pure-play digital websites I read regularly are, essentially, magazines in conception. The only question that remains is “will anything that looks like existing print products survive?” – and that’s looking more dubious by the month.

The end of The Magazine

Pioneering sub-compact magazine The Magazine is going away:

The Magazine will cease publishing its regular every-other-week issues with the December 17, 2014, edition. We don’t see this as a failure, but as the right time. The Magazine was frankly gloriously profitable in its first year as readers came onboard to try out the app and the format, but they then very slowly trickled away. This was abetted in part by Apple’s decision to hide Newsstand apps, a constant complaint by readers who simply forgot when we had new issues appear. We also have problems getting notifications to work reliably, which led to more people forgetting, and thus canceling subscriptions.

I suspect that there was a deeper problem: even as a long-term subscriber (I’ve been subscribed since issue 1), I would struggle to tell you exactly what The Magazine is about. When it launched, it was a technically revolutionary digital magazine, that was small and tight, and largely filled with well-known Apple and design pundits writing about other things. In the two years since, it’s retained the idea of being a magazine about other things for people interested in tech – but that’s a brutally hard sell. And retaining and recruiting readers is the hardest part of any magazine. As founder Marco Arment said:

Many non-ideal factors and decisions I made up front probably contributed to The Magazine not being sustainable forever. But the biggest challenge was simply that running a magazine today is a really tough business. I thought making a high-quality app was the hard part that was keeping iPad magazines from being more successful, but the app turned out to be the easiest and least important part of the business.

Rather ironically, most big publishers have their markets well sorted, but their technology is a disaster area. The Magazine is failing for the opposite reason – great tech, but an un-marketable concept. I’d really like to see more big publishers do some interesting things with TypeEngine (the platform behind latter issues of The Magazine, targeting niches within their existing audience with lightweight, cheap magazines.

Magazines have always worked best in clearly defined niches (with a few, large and notable exceptions). The internet has only made niches more important as time goes on.

The Magazine was filled with fantastic journalism, exceptional photography and great illustration – but without a compelling hook, that wasn’t enough.

Still, well worth checking out the next eight issues, and the vast archive, if you’re interested in good journalism and an interesting digital publishing concept, even if it’s approaching its end.