Magazine Apps: Storehouses of Crust
Friday, December 2nd, 2011
mamedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/347px-The_Gentlemans_Magazine_May_1759-173×300.jpg” alt=”The_Gentleman’s_Magazine” width=”173″ height=”300″ />
Magazines are a prime candidate for successful portage to digital means. The very first magazine, The Gentleman’s Magazine (launched in 1731), was an innovative type of publication presenting monthly installments of “news and commentary on any topic the educated public might be interested in” with unique layout and design elements. Fresh content and compelling design have been the modus operandi of magazines for the last 280 years.
‘Fresh content and compelling design’ are also terms one could use to define much of the endeavor that is the world wide web and, by extension, content-delivery apps. Our digital world is indeed very magazine-y. Yet somehow, magazines have not made a very satisfactory portage to digital means. This has been especially true for magazine apps. Every time I open a magazine app, I hear the design ball drop. I swear, there should be a satisfying ball-bouncing sound effect whenever you open Zinio.
First employed by the creator of the 1731 The Gentleman’s Magazine, the word ‘magazine’ is derived from the Arabic word makhazin meaning “storehouses”. However, centuries of encrusted business models, corporate inertia, and design entropy have transformed this seminal impulse. Magazine publishers’ failure to digitally launch reveals a possible secondary, previously overlooked meaning of makhazin: “fresh content encrusted in a specific print-centric InDesign layout from which it cannot be unbound for anyone ever no matter what.” Who knew?
In short, there’s a missed opportunity afoot. Magazine publishers seem to run out of creative juice (or will) after developing print layouts. More often than not, we get served PDF incunabulum instead of platform-specific interaction designs delivering magazine content in unique and compelling ways. Heck, save the bells and whistles for 2014 – I’m not seeking ‘enhanced apps’ with Potteresque moving pictures on every page (although that would be very cool) – just give me useful platform-specific UI other than replicated print layouts with a dash of the Devil’s own page curl and a sprinkle of share buttons. I hope magazine
publishers find it in their hearts to eventually take digital seriously and partner with some UX professionals to develop post-magazine design solutions.
To be fair there are (and were) some wins out there. The Economist and Esquire apps are effective. The Vanity Fair app used to be excellent, with its unique vertical layout UI and printish horizontal interface. Alas, since then, it seems they’ve opted to fly Woodwing back to the future. Perhaps it’ll take a new digitally-native magazine start-up to set us right and restore the makhazin; someone to provide a storehouse of original and curated content in a nice app-specific container. Maybe they would then offer a print version – one that is simply photocopies of the app screens stapled together.