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.



Where is the e in ebooks?

updated Sep 1, 2011
This is a long post, but with many goodies if you are into books:

  1. Basic e-features that enhance the reading experience
  2. How to expand the life span of books
  3. How to help the readers to drive your sales
  4. Powerful sorting and searching
  5. How to encourage book reading with tracking and reminders
  6. Five reasons why ebooks aren’t here yet – or are they?

Ebook lovers usually have these basic reasons for liking ebooks:

  1. You can bring your ebooks along easily on commutes and travels
  2. You save shelf space

They usually don’t mention the core of ebooks, that the they are digital and therefore have more functionalities than printed books. As I pointed out in my previous post, “Early ebooks and why they failed“, already at the beginning of ebooks 20 years ago the main selling point was the enhanced digital functionality. So why are ebooks today still not using much of all these digital features?

One main reason for this is fragmentation. There are numerous user interface designs and no common standard for how these e-features look or work. And conservative book publishers still don’t see the value of user communication, social media communities etc. So most ebooks are just converted print books with no e-functionalities.

What  e-features, you say?

Well, there are a number of smart e-features already in avying degrees in different ebook applications.
For example, see these exemplary video clip examples from the UK publisher Enhanced Editions (scroll down and watch the short videos of each feature).

These are basic functions that should be integrated in all kinds of ebooks:

    1. Notes, being able to write my own notes into the ebook and decide if I want to share them with others, see other’s public notes
    2. Highlighting text
    4. User-selectable fonts, font sizes, background colours (for example light text on dark background for reading in dark rooms)
    5. Online sharing: being able to easily recommend the book to my friends by email, Facebook, Twitter etc
    6. Rate the book online and read both professional and user reviews
    7. Copy quotes from the text
    8. Search for text in the book
    9. Multiple-device support: being able to read it on my laptop, mobile, tablet, and auto-sync where I am in the book
    10. Integrated audio book: Listen to a voice reading the book, for example when you are driving is a feature that is now becoming more common, supported for example in Apple’s iBooks and in applications like these:

A demo of the integrated audiobook function from Enhanced Editions of their ebook novel “The Death of Bunny Munro” as read by the author himself,  Nick Cave (highly recommended ebook!)

Then there is the whole spectrum of more advanced things that enhance certain types of ebook, blurring the distinctions between books, games, learning etc:

  1. Video inserted into the ebook, either illustrating the content or a short talk by the author.
  2. Animations that explain and visualize the content
  3. Interactivity such as game functions, move around in photo panoramas, play sound effects or music, quizzes etc.

But the above is just the first step, there are many more e’s that should be utilized now that we have the online possibilities to improve the reading experience and business of ebooks!

E as in Extended life time

One of the biggest problems in the printed book business is not discussed much, but it is solved by ebooks. Or it could be solved, with a bit of forward thinking!

It’s about shelf life, the short longevity of printed books.

All publications, including books, can be divided in two types

  1. Short life-span, needs to be updated often: non-fiction, user manuals, school books, most management books, travel guides etc
  2. Long life-span: Novels, cook books, some types of reference books etc

E as in Edition updates

Since it is so difficult and expensive to print a revised edition of a paper book and re-distribute it to the readers of the original version, this is never done.

In contrast to printed books, ebooks can easily be updated by the author. This is of course an enormous advantage for  books in the short life-span category described above. This both prolongs the shelf life and increase the value. You can charge more for a business ebook that comes with an offer that it will be updated for free to the buyer.

Also, this opens up a direct communication link with the readers, requiring them to register for the updates and also receiving information about the authors next title etc. So why is this business opportunity still not used?

But we need much smarter search and catalog systems for ebooks, as well as recommendation engines that work across all the publishers, small and big, globally.


E as in Enlighten your friends

Help the readers to drive your sales! Make it very easy to spread the word about an ebook they like. And make it equally easy to receive such a recommendation and act on it by buying the book directly, on the spot, even if you are on a bus.

More on this in my previous post Stories of spreading ebooks


E as in Evolution of storage order

Imagine that you have a number of book shelves in different rooms at home, but you could only put books from one specific publishing house in each book shelf. So to find a book you first have to know the name of the publisher, then in what room and book shelf the book is in. Not very reader-friendly, eh? Well that’s the way it is with ebooks now!

There are numerous methods for organizing the books in your physical book shelf, as described in this funny article in the Guardian, or with this innovative book shelf tree branch. In these book shelves you have a good overview of your books.

Compare this with your collection of ebooks: You cannot search for book titles, authors or content,  and you cannot sort them with tags for different categories.

Your ebook collection is just a database, sitting inside a powerful computer. So technically they should be possible to sort in any way you want!

With a physical book shelf you have to choose between sorting the books alphabetically, by the title or the autor, or sort them per category. With a data base you should be able to sort your books in all these ways and more!

Here are my current ebook apps in my iPad:

Some of these apps, like Kindle and iBooks,  contain multiple books of many kinds that I have purchased from these ebook stores. Others are independent publishers of niche types of ebooks or services for ebook lovers. And some are for individual ebooks. Can you tell the difference?

Looking at this collection of icons, how do I find a certain book that I have on my iPad? I can certainly not search for an author’s name or a specific word of phrase that I know is inside one of my ebooks, like I can in every other type of document I have on my computer.

So I want a view where I can see and search for all my ebooks, independent of its type or publisher.


E as in Enhanced tracking and reminders

I usually read several books simultaneously, and sometimes forget what book I was reading. With printed books it is somewhat easier: I see it lying on my bedside table. With ebooks, it is very easy to lose track of what books I have started reading. In my screen shot above from my iPad there is no way I can see what books I have started or finished reading.

So how about a clock-type little visual indicator on top of all book icons, showing how much I have read? It would also be nice to have automatic reminders: “Henrik, this is Sunday afternoon and you have 11 unread ebooks and 4 that you have started reading”.

And a function (like Runkeeper) where I can automatically post the reading status of my books in my Facebook and Twitter feeds.


Wired Magazine had an interesting article in June 2011: 5 Reasons Why E-Books Aren’t There Yet.  In the article, the author argues:
“There are some aspects to print book culture that e-books can’t replicate (at least not easily) — yet.”

I agree with some of these reasons, but find others can be fixed now or are already here:

1) An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.

I also have this problem. But as I say here, it is possible to create smart reminder systems and social media functions that inspire me to finish my books. I have not seen these functions anywhere yet, here is room for innovation!

2) You can’t keep your books all in one place

Yes, indeed, see above!

3) Notes in the margins help you think.

How come the author has missed that this feature has been in ereaders since 1992? Perhaps because it is sometimes not so easy to understand how to use it, we need more intuitive interface designs.

4) E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way.

I agree, but pricing is a complex issue that the market will fix eventually. Interesting that the author compares with library loans, but not with the emerging subscription models. More on this will follow in my upcoming post “Re-think the pricing of ebooks”

5) E-books can’t be used for interior design.

This is not a problem really, just old-fashioned thinking. Like “kerosene lamps are so beautiful that they will never disappear”. We will continue to buy beautiful coffee-table books to decorate our homes. The ebooks we will use to decorate our social media profiles.

This is post #3 in my series on the ebook market and development.

Stories of spreading ebooks

  1. A revolution in finding books you want to read!
  2. Easy recommendations turns ebooks into social objects

I started reading some ebooks in the 90s, but it was not until I bought my first iPad a year ago that I started buying ebooks instead of paper books whenever they are available.

I really enjoy the comfort of having my ebooks available and synchronized  for reading on my iPad, mobile and computer.

But I also discovered that I have started to buy many more ebooks now, and in new ways, as illustrated in this story:

Recently I took a trip to my vacation home in the Stockholm archipelago with this ferry:

During the 25 minute ferry ride I read some blogs on my iPad. My eye caught a story about a new ebook publisher called Atavist, publishing original non-fiction journalism laced with video, audio and layers of information.

That of course appealed to my multimedia production experience, so my finger touched the link to Atavist and this appeared in seconds on my iPad:

I played the video and immediately realized that this is my kind of ebooks; short, non-fiction journalism with multimedia features, love it!

Then I browsed the titles and found the story Lifted,  about the big helicopter robbery in Stockholm 2010, a drama familiar to all Swedes. Seconds later I had spent $2.99 buying it in the App Store.

A new faster way to discover and buy books!

So, most important, only minutes after first discovering Atavist in the blog post, I had bought and started reading the ebook Lifted, while still riding the ferry!

This is a fundamental change in how we discover and buy books. Before, when we read or heard about an interesting book, we hade to make a note of it and then either go buy it at the book store or order it online at Amazon etc. Now this threshold is lowered with two improtant factors, in this order:

  1. We can buy a recommended ebook in seconds and download it wirelessly by just tapping links on our e-readers like the iPad.
  2. It is very easy to pay for ebooks (mostly, at least with the Apple App Store and Kindle book store) and the prices are now often very affordable.

This changes our consumer behaviours, opening great possibilities for new publishers like Atavist.

Easy recommendations turns ebooks into social objects

A week later I am having lunch at our coworking office space The Hub. I tell a guy sitting next to me about Atavist and how I bought the ebook Lifted on the ferry. Turns out he also enjoys this kind of books, so he flips open his iPad and visits on his web browser.

Seconds later, he also has bought the Lifted ebook for $2.99, thanking me for the tip! All this while we are eating our pastas.

Ebooks are transforming both our reading and buying habits!

This is post #1 in my series on the ebook market and development.