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View the iPad as a magazine opportunity, not a container

Matthew Carlson on what iPad magazine publishers can do to better serve readers.

As more magazines take advantage of the iPad’s popularity, one thing thus far has been clear: most publishers are simply reproducing their print products on the digital screen.

In a recent interview, Matthew Carlson, principal of experience strategy and design at Hot Studio Inc., said established magazines are thus far missing the boat by producing iPad editions weighed down by bloated files, slow downloads and locked content:

Magazines have traditionally thought of themselves as kind of a locked book, of a complete, discreet object. Ideally, something that is going to be really interactive or live out on the web needs to be more like an open book — like if you took the cover of the magazine and turned it outside in so that people could discover and access the stories more effectively.

Flipboard screenshot
A screenshot from the Flipboard iPad app.

Who’s doing it right? Carlson pointed toward a trio of companies that wouldn’t be counted among traditional publishers:

The magazines that are doing the best job right now wouldn’t be considered traditional magazines at all. Flipboard, Reeder, Zite — these things are really more like glorified feed readers. Or feed readers that create a beautiful presentation layer. These magazines do a good job of bringing the type of interaction digital media consumers expect. I don’t think many mainstream magazines have quite reached that level of interactivity.

For more on how iPad magazines can do a better job of engaging readers and how best to design and build a magazine for tablets, check out the entire interview in the following video:


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Comments: 6

  1. It seems like too many writers focus too much on iPad magazine download sizes and not on the experiences. If you publish a music magazine, like we do, you’d expect the magazine size to be a bit larger as we include audio and video so that when you read about an artists’ music.. you can hear it as well. iPad magazines should be judged on the context of the publication.

    While I like Zite, Flipboard and the other enhanced RSS reader style publications… too many writers are acting like this should be THE standard of publications as opposed to one of many solutions.

  2. Download sizes are certainly a part of the problem, but they are often a telltale sign:

    Adobe tools have been used to create the magazine app, and the result is a bunch of jpeg images of pages *including text*. This means that you can’t alter the font size, which for me at least makes the magazine an absolute non-starter. You can’t select text, have links in the text, etc. Page flipping tends to be slow, etc.

    An example of a traditional magazine, properly done, is The Economist. Text is resizable via pinch/zoom, the layout is very nice, performance is fast, and file sizes are relatively small even if you choose to download the the audio version of the entire magazine issue. You can archive as many past issues as wish.

    The is absolutely no reason a multimedia heavy publication can’t be done in the style of The Economist — do the text and pictures the same way, and simply add video/audio to the layout where appropriate.

    Of the mainstream publishers I’ve looked at, the worst offender is Conde Nast — I got the free Wired issue they just released and they clearly continue to use Adobe tools resulting in non-resizable fonts and al the other faults mentioned above.

    For the love of your readers and the almighty dollar: fire Adobe, and hire some competent iOS developers. Ask The Economist for recommendations…

  3. Call me crazy, but just as most web users aren’t looking for obnoxious banner ads, I seriously doubt magazine/tablet mag readers are looking for “interactivity” that will help them buy things. I realize that the Internet powers that be would love it if everything online were monetizable, but it isn’t. A small slice of gadget-lovers and shopaholics may find the magazine app ads intriguing, new and different (for a while), but I highly, highly doubt the vast majority of folks will buy into it. Most magazines are about ideas an information, not buying things, and I’d bet the lion’s share of readers just want to be left alone as they read stories that interest them. A subtle ad here and there wouldn’t be terrible (although there had better be some sort of inverse relationship between the cost of an iPad mag issue and the number of ads forced upon you).

    With the sluggish, uninspiring start to the tablet mag market (for many reasons), this seems to me to be a medium still groping for an audience, rather than the other way around. If users aren’t getting something novel and of true value out of the deal, this market will shrivel and die – save a small percentage of die-hards – relatively quickly. The market must want the product – this is NOT a “build it, and they will come” scenario.

  4. Mag+ from Swedish Bonnier? Steve Jobs mentioned it.

  5. ” … feed readers that create a beautiful presentation layer …” WHY? Why do we need that? Mags have the chance to bring the iPad to a new level of uniqueness of content. If I want a glorified feed reader I’ll write it myself or use a $29 app from the latest hip design studio. The iPad could blow this market wide open and create a uniquely deliverable device that ALSO preserves the uniqueness that IS PRESENT IN MAGAZINES ALREADY (they are glossy, have targeted ads, make the reader part of a “club” etc and ARE NOT just a “dirty” marginalized newspaper for the average 8th grade audience). Don’t allow the iPad to become just another useless content mangling device; it (and other tablets) should bring more to the market. “Media 2.0” needs to be careful here not to be so “modern” that it forgets its roots and what humans want.

  6. At Tactical Gear (an F+W Media property) our goal was to use the chosen tool (Adobe DPS) to complement and enhance the content. Interactivity is not about “buying things”. Interactivity provides a chance for our writer’s, editors and designers to share ideas and information in a more engaging and memorable way.

    And we did not embark on an iPad magazine until we could bypass iOS developers, not because we have animus towards developers, but that the real talent is the editor and designer. We waited until we could put the design tools back into the hands of those who understand our Brand. Mag+, Woodwing, Adobe and other authoring tools empower our design and editorial teams to do what they do best.