The Modern Magazine

The Modern MagazinePrint magazines are—contrary to the kind the-sky-is-falling-in predictions that always accompany the arrival of new media—not dead. They’re not even dying. They’re actually undergoing a bit of a vinyl-like renaissance.

Jeremy Leslie has picked up on this phenomenon and penned a solid, gorgeous print book to discuss the magazine industry context and its plays.

Entitled The Modern Magazine: Visual Journalism in the Digital Era, the book is a coffee table tome that pays homage to excellent magazine innovation and design. Organised logically and featuring stellar design itself, it features covers and spreads of some of the best designed, most beloved magazines around. It’s basically porn for magazine lovers’ eyes.

The word ‘magazine’, I learnt from Leslie’s book, is derived from a combination of the Arabic makhzan, meaning storehouse and the French magasin (shop). It also has connotations to magazine as in guns and bullets—that is, the sense that the magazine could explode people’s idea of content etc. through surprise.

As with books, I also found out from Leslie’s book, early magazines were only afforded by the wealthy, but came to become affordable for the masses. Later, the originally purely text-based magazines came to include images—a change that coincided with major 20th century cultural and political shifts. It’s this image-led aesthetic we are now familiar with, and magazines have become rich text and visual records of our times.

As a not-so-closet magazine (and book) lover, I can attest to that. Both timely and often timeless, magazines capture the here and now as well as represent a time capsule of culturally and historically significant events. Leslie documents all this and more.

Leslie’s writing style is brilliant and the information he imparts incredibly readable and salient. But it’s even possible to enjoy this book simply by flicking through its vibrantly designed pages. This is a man who understands communication design.

The Modern Magazine emerged from a blog Leslie writes about magazines and the publishing industry, so he spans multiple platforms and refreshingly doesn’t get caught up in the print-versus-digital dichotomy. New media doesn’t usurp old media, Leslie argues—the relationship and interplay is far more complex than that.

Technology, for example, has improved magazines by facilitating better layout, increased processing power, greater audience reach, and diversification of content in general. For example, Monocle magazine has opened coffee shops and set up a 24-hour radio channel—all of which feed back into, and create new opportunities for, the magazine and brand.

But, Leslie says, shiny, new technology isn’t immediately adopted by magazines—it has to earn its place and be adopted and adapted to suit the magazine rather than being treated as ‘new toy novelty’. Print, it turns out, is a rather robust interface not yet surpassed by superior digital ones.

Nor is Leslie anti-technology, noting, for example, that the newly allowed affordability of software means such wins as it’s easier than ever to produce magazines. We’re subsequently seeing a rise in independently published magazines—meaning things are on the up for magazines in general and innovation is at magazine development primacy.

Which is 500-odd words’ way of saying The Modern Magazine is a fantastic point-in-time examination and prediction of what’s to come in terms of magazines and their publishing and distribution practices and channels. And it offers some handy eye porn candy…

Here an iPad, there an iPad, everywhere an iPad

The iPad featured heavily in my Facebook feed this morning, and one of the posts was a timely reminder (for me) that we’re all at different stages of embracing digital reading – and that Apple’s ubergadget is taking over our lives.

The first message came from a former editor of Australian homemaker and women’s magazines now working as a blogger and ebook publisher in the US: “If you were wondering just how dead paper-made magazines are, I sat in my hairdresser in Soho [New York] reading magazines from the comp iPad that is attached to every chair. Yep, that dead.”

The iPad is infiltrating our lives.
I tend to agree with her. It’s only a matter of time before we’re all reading much shinier and more readily available versions of our favourite magazines. I love Zinio and PressReader and already read most of my newspapers and magazines this way. Our home is much less cluttered as a result.

The second ebookish Facebook post came from a newspaper cartoonist friend who is often to be seen drawing on his Mac with iPod headphones to block out the newsroom buzz.

“Arrrgghh. I’ve just ‘swiped’ a piece of paper to turn the page I’m reading. I’ve obviously spent far too much time reading on the iPad.”

Oops. Have to confess I’ve done the same thing more than once, and I’m sure we’re not alone.

The third message that struck me as I thumbed through the feed was from one of my oldest and best friends who has worked as a lawyer, English teacher and book editor, and has limited time to devote to her bookish passion given she has four young children.

“Wow! I have just logged onto FB on my new iPad (oh, the joy!) after months in the communications wilderness, and have discovered all these lovely birthday messages. Thanks so much! X”

This last poster is not completely new to digital reading – she received a Kobo last birthday and immediately put me to shame by reading War and Peace on it. I think my first Kobo book was a Sophie Kinsella.

Indeed, she’s a lot more savvy in such matters than another magazine publisher I spoke to yesterday who didn’t know what an ebook was and had never heard of a Kindle.

So, it’s not safe to assume to everyone out there knows what I’m talking about when I drop Google+, iView, TuneIn Radio, QR codes, Calibre, GoodReads, TweetDeck, Things, DropBox, UrbanSpoon, Sony Reader, Android or even Booku into a conversation.

If some or any of those words are gobbledegook to you, stay tuned for upcoming posts that will make sense of them all.

Can’t wait? Try looking them up on Wikipedia.

Don’t Mention The Long-Haul Flights

The Happiest RefugeeLong-haul flights aren’t fun. Particularly if you’re hopping on the next one before you’ve had time to forget the pain of the previous one. In the last two months, work commitments have seen me head from Australia to Germany to Australia to Paris to Shanghai and then to Jinan, a city roughly halfway between Shanghai and Beijing. I don’t wish to talk right now about the flights I’ll take in just over a week’s time that will take me back to Brisbane via Jinan and Sydney.

What I will say, though, is that in-flight entertainment is a godsend. Most of those flights have been with reputable airlines that provide buckets of channels—and even games—to wile away the hours of dead-would-bring-relief boredom.

I’ve watched more movies in the last months than I have in the last few years, and they’ve been fantastic, if slightly foreign to me—I’m someone who will choose a book over a film in almost every instance so watching a movie, much less back-to-back movies, is something of a novelty to me.

Had I known before I headed off that some of these aeroplanes come equipped with USB slots, I’d have brought myself some on-board reading too. Yes, an e-reader is a viable, practical option too. I’m just waiting for the format war to be done and dusted and for an e-reader to be released that both does exactly what I want and looks good.

I know, I know, I sound completely superficial in saying that, but as a Mac user who has discovered the joy of good industrial design—read: that functionality and beauty are not mutually exclusive things—I refuse to use clunkers, irrespective of how good their content might be once you get past the ugly cover.

Moreover, had I known that some flights on budget airlines come without any kind of in-flight entertainment (and barely any food, and even less that’s edible; but that’s another blog for another forum), I would have stocked up on some serious reading material.

As someone who will forego underpants for books, I of course turned up relatively armed for the flight. I had Anh Do’s award-winning book The Happiest Refugee (there will be a blog about this brilliant book very, very soon) and a stack of magazines.

I rarely buy magazines because they to me feel both a guilty pleasure and someone looked down upon in the reading world. But say what you will about magazines—they saved my life on those interminable, turbulence-filled, food-deprived flights.

The issue is that though I eked those out over the flights here, books and magazines are heavy and there are only so many you can jam in before the:

a)      airhostess notices and busts you for exceeding weight

b)     overhead locker buckles

c)     seat pocket bends out so far you can’t get the tray down to eat your meal.

Subsequently, they’re now well and truly finished. I don’t have a plan for passing the time back to Australia. Air-freighted care packages of books will be accepted.

The Devil Reads Vogue?

The Devil Wears PradaI’ve never understood the obsession with and reverence to Vogue. Frankly, I’ve always found there to be too many ads and not enough coherently-strung-together words. That and the ‘fashion’ contained within the pages is so preposterous, expensive, and un-wearable I’ve never been convinced that they’re not taking the p&%s.

I did, however, surprisingly enjoy both the book and the film adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada—guilty, simple-carbohydrate reading and viewing pleasures that both appealed to my sense of Vogue’s over-the-top ridiculousness and indulged my abject, albeit disconnected, fascination with magazines in general.

This impression was probably helped by the fact that I was at the time having my own devil-wears-Prada moment in an all-consuming, high-pressure work situation that I thankfully extricated myself from some months later.

But even I couldn’t resist gaining some insight into the arctic Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour courtesy of The September Issue. I mean, who doesn’t want to know if she’s really as influential and as scary as they make out?

It took me until this Friday night just past to get round to watching the fly-on-the-wall documentary, and I was desperate to know how close The Devil Wears Prada was to the ‘real’ story of Wintour. And I say ‘real’, because you never can know how much the camera got to see or how much the documentary shows.

What struck me first was how the positioning of Wintour’s desk was identical. Small stuff, yes, but striking for me nonetheless. I quickly realised what a Vogue rookie I was, though—the September issue is not just one of 12 they do a year; it’s a full-blown, highly anticipated magazine extravaganza.

Fans and media alike salivate over the ultimate annual issue, which grows in size and scale each year and which one designer quipped would soon be a ‘phone book’. I kind of think that’s not an entirely bad thing and that the breathless excitement that surrounds it is not dissimilar to that that accompanies the release of a Harry Potter (or similarly popular installation of a long-running series).

I was also amazed that despite Wintour getting all the press, she was far from the most talented or even the star of the show. That mantle is held by Grace Coddington, the creative genius behind the best of Vogue and whose brilliant work Wintour seemingly regularly threw out. Was it just me, or did you start to doubt Wintour’s taste watching the film? Did you start to wonder just how good the magazine could be were Coddington at the helm?

What also amazed me was that despite my meh-ness about Vogue (seriously, they won’t ever attract me as a reader unless they ditch some ads and couture and deliver some intelligent, world-changing content) was how caught up I got in the work that goes into the making of the publication. It’s something I’m a part of daily, but the amount of work that goes into something that appears small or seamless and that in coming together often in the nick of time continues to blow my mind.

I was also reminded that my jury’s still out when it comes to magazine reading. I see it as a secret (and secretively-carried-out) indulgence that’s slotted in ever so occasionally between reading ‘serious’ non-fiction tomes that skewer the world’s problems and that often simultaneously depress and inspire me.

But I’m wondering if that view is misguided or misplaced? We all enjoy a good mag (even if Vogue isn’t my first or ever choice) and I perhaps shouldn’t consider such reading devilish. After all, any reading is good reading, isn’t it? Can we have our books and mags and read them too?

Review: The Daily Pt 2

READ PART 1 OF THIS POST

Having said all that, what The Daily does not do is shift the pendulum back towards news as a single portal paradigm – and that is its ultimate downfall (and possibly the downfall of all printed newspapers and magazines). Nowadays when I read news, it isn’t through a single organisation’s curated (or created) window. It’s by flicking between links shared on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s a process frequently interrupted by sharing things I read with other people I trust.

Which is not to say The Daily doesn’t at least try to interact with Facebook and Twitter. It really does, and it does so in a way that makes it unique to paywalled news – you can share almost every article in The Daily, and people can read it through a web browser – it just isn’t as compellingly interactive as it is on the iPad, and you can’t browse the entire issue except in the paid app. But that isn’t to say that the process of sharing articles is easy.

What you get when you try and share an article from The Daily is a carefully crafted advertisement for The Daily. The link is still there, but this isn’t a click and go process, and that rather misses the point of the modern news sharing paradigm. News isn’t about where it comes from, it’s about who it comes from, what it is and who you trust. If I wanted a curated news experience on the iPad, I’d just use Flipboard and my Twitter stream. And that may not be the average news reader’s experience, but that is where it’s heading – and trying to dam the river with an app like this isn’t going to stop it.

That’s something that any digital industry can learn from The Daily. Digitising content isn’t just about making it available digitally – it’s about hooking into the new ways people have of finding, sharing and consuming content. Now we’ve just got to find a way to get people to pay for it – and that’s one experiment The Daily is pioneering that I suspect will be very interesting indeed.

Review: The Daily

There is no shortage of comparisons between the book industry and the music industry, despite their obvious differences. However, book publishers are loathe to compare the digitisation of books to the digitisation of newspapers and magazines. And that’s mostly because paper and mag publishing is (arguably) facing off against far bigger problems than the book trade. Chief of those problems is how to get consumers to pay for content. And that’s where The Daily comes in.

The Daily is Rupert Murdoch’s tilt at making paid newspaper and magazine content work online. For the moment it exists exclusively on the iPad, and it’s the first iPad app to leverage Apple’s contentious new subscription system. And it’s a good deal too. At the moment The Daily‘s content is free to try, but when subscriptions start rolling out in a couple of weeks, it’ll cost just $0.99 per week (and there’s an entirely new issue every day, with updates throughout the day).

Click on any of the images in this post to see them full-size.

So what’s the app like? I guess you could say it’s slick. If I were the kind of person who read a newspaper from cover to cover, I’d say it gave me almost everything a paper gives you and more: all the regular sections of a daily paper (arts and lifestyle, gossip, politics, technology, opinion and business), comprehensive (American) sports coverage, sudoku and crossword puzzles (which can be linked through Apple’s Game Centre to compete against friends) and much more.

The app’s interactive elements definitely have a bit of a wow factor – not because they’ve never been done before, but because the content is so fresh. This isn’t just a one-off app like an iPad book, or the gorgeous interactive table of elements app. This is immersive daily news. It’s a format I could get used to. There are photos with zoomed in hotspots, 360-degree photos, live polls, animated elements; not to mention most articles have an audio version (read out by a real person), and there’s a video that gives the highlights of each issue that can be interrupted at any time to go to the full story being talked about. You can ‘shuffle’ The Daily to take you to a random section of the issue you haven’t read yet, and flick through individual pages like you would in a physical paper or magazine.

Having said all that, what The Daily does not do is shift the pendulum back towards news as a single portal paradigm – and that is its ultimate downfall (and possibly the downfall of all printed newspapers and magazines). Nowadays when I read news, it isn’t through a single organisation’s curated (or created) window. It’s by flicking between links shared on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s a process frequently interrupted by sharing things I read with other people I trust.

READ PART 2 OF THIS POST