The Magazine is Dead, Long Live the Story!

updated May 4, 2012

I’ve have been trying to read e-magazines on my iPads for two years now. It still does not work for me, which has surprised me, since I love my iPad and all other forms of digital media. I now think I know why1

I am a magazine lover

I have subscribed to numerous magazines of all kinds ever since my childhood. I probably started with Donald Duck, moving to Reader’s Digest during my teens. During my university years I subscribed to a number of international magazines to keep my languages flowing, and ever since then I have subscribed to a number of photography and car magazines and several other magazines about media, society, consumer reports, philosophy etc.

So when the first iPad came I dived into all kinds of magazines since they were easy to find and cheaper to buy. But I quickly found that I did not take the time to read them from cover to back like I always do with paper mags. And I keep forgetting to read the e-magazines that I have paid for and downloaded.

My main reasons that I don’t enjoy iPad magazines as much:

Accessibility, searchability and sharability

I feel that e-magazines represent a step backwards in digital development. For example, I hate downloading times of several minutes, and wasting 500 Mb space on single magazine issue. Also, e-magazines often do not offer the digital media functions that I take for granted on the web.

Like being able to search both inside an issue and globally across all my media, social media sharing of articles etc. These problems are similar to ebooks, which I have blogged about in my post Where is the e in ebooks?

The e-mag format feels dead

I love magazines and I think printed, glossy magazines will stay with us for many more years. But my insight now is that the current e-magazine format is flawed. The magazine format started with the technical constraints of paper, adding editorial context and brand. I knew when I bought a Popular Photography magazine that it would contain lots of quality tips about photography and good tests of cameras and equipment. I learned to appreciate and trust their curation of editorial material. But I did not know what tips and what cameras would be covered until I bought it. This still felt OK, until the Internet arrived.

On the web, I can access lots of photo tips on photo communities like Flickr and thousands of photo entusiast blogs. For camera tests, I prefer DP Review, where I can access a growing database of really extensive tests of every camera on the market, and new cameras are tested within days of their release.

But even more important to me is the social part. I want to be able to share what I read with my friends and online social communities. And I like getting a lot of input from them, links that never connect me with e-magazines but with articles on the web.

It’s about stories

Before Internet, the magazine brand was my key factor, I knew that Newsweek offered a certain type of professional news journalism and I trusted Wired Magazine to tell me interesting stories about technology, showing me new fun gadgets and portrait inspiring web entrepreneurs etc. Wired was one of the first e-magazines when the iPad was launched, so I cancelled my paper Wired subscription, which I have had since 1993.

But after 6 months or so I stopped buying Wired for my iPad for the reasons above, and I don’t miss any of the versions. For me it feels better to read the stories on online, where there is no download time and I can quickly search for my type of stories, and I can share the stories I like.

So why do we still have the current e-magazine format?

It seems that the main reason is to be able to charge money for it. Publishers have big difficulties breaking out of their 100-year old mindset of what a magazine is. New formats and new business models are now appearing some from forward looking publishers, but most from new players that are not stuck in magazine traditions.

And when we move magazines from paper to digital, the formats can, and will change! Seth Godin writes about this trend in books.

I want to see more focus on discussing the reader experience

  • How can we further improve the accessibility and reading experience of great stories?
  • How can we use digital tools to help us find new types of content that interests us?
  • How can we be enticed to pay reasonable amounts for quality reading.
  • How can transaction costs be minimized and the authors cut maximized?

Shorter is often better

There are still no working models for micropayments, where you pay a small sum to read an article. But the the line between e-magazines and e-books are blurring. There is an emerging trend of inexpensive ebooks with around 75 pages, such as Atavist and Kindle Singles, showing that this model might have a future after all. Again, for photography,  take a look at the stunningly beautiful iPad app Stuck in Earth, where the author makes money by selling inexpensive ebooks at Flatbooks.

Another trend is the “Spotify model” where you pay a subscription per month to access a growing library of media. Ebook examples are 24Symbols and uTales, see also this article Are We Seeing the Rise of E-book Subscription Services?

Time to liberate the stories from the magazines!

Personally I would be happy to see a new form of subscription model for magazines, or rather for stories:
Break out the stories from their magazine constraints, put them on the web and make them fully searchable and sharable and charge me $9.99 per month to access a vast library of good stories, I would jump at it!

This online story library should contain all sorts of stories, from the print publishers and from online media sites and bloggers etc. Since there is no limitations of space, everything can be here.

But wait, the whole web is already full of free stories?

Yes, but this story library should contain the stores that are today locked in the magazines, curated, both by professionals and by user ratings as well as ratings from my own friends. It should also have much mor sophisticated personalization functionality than offered by  simple web searches.

Perhaps this could also liberate the journalists from the magazines?

If the readers have better tools for finding and paying for articles that interests them, their role in the value chain will increase.

What about the magazine publishers? Wel, they actually might also gain from this, since more readers will find the articles in their magazines, and some of them will probably want to read more articles and buy the whole magazines as well.

Once we break free of the old paper-based mindset, many news form of story-spreading and economical models for them will emerge.