From Silent Mode to Heated Mode: Reconstructing the Magazine Future… the Popular Science Way (Sidebar: Me and My iPad)April 9, 2010
When a magazine bills itself as The Future Now and the philosophy of the CEO of the publishing company is based on Fail Fast and Fail Cheaply, the sky then becomes the limit to what to do when it comes to the future. While others take a wait and see approach, Bonnier’s Popular Science magazine takes the do, fail, redo and succeed approach. “The magazine is neither afraid of experimenting in public nor afraid of others imitating what the magazine is doing,” Mark Jannot, editor in chief of Popular Science told me in an interview on Wednesday.
Popular Science + was launched earlier this week to coincide with the launch of the iPad tablet from Apple. The magazine is billed as an “achievement in digital magazine reading that began months ago in a collaboration between Bonnier’s global R & D task force and BERG, a London based design firm.” The result is Mag+, a new platform which Bonnier bills as the “first step toward a vision of what digital magazine reading can be.”
The company identified “six basic principles that underlie the Mag+ digital platform.” They are:
* Silent mode. Magazines are a luxury that readers can lose themselves in. Mag + has fewer distractions than the Web. It allows readers to lean back, away from the browser, and just focus on the bold images and rich storytelling. Reduced complexity increases a reader’s immersion.
* Fluid motion. Magazines are easy to browse, and Mag+ replicates that with a story-to-story navigation that’s more like a panning camera than a flipping page. As we say, “Flow is the new flip.”
* Designed pages. Magazines are defined by their carefully conceived layouts that give readers an immediate understanding of the content and why it matters to them, a quality that got lost on magazine Web sites. Mag+ brings design back to digital publishing.
* Defined beginning and end. Unlike the Web, magazines have a defined storyline and flow from front to back. Mag + returns to the notion that something can be, and wants to be, completed. It’s the end of endlessness.
* issue-based delivery. One of the great joys of magazines is that feeling of anticipation when a new one arrives. Mag+ maintains that by delivering full issues at once with all the same content as the print edition, and on the same schedule.
* Advertising as content. Relevant, attractive advertising is as much a part of the magazine experience as the editorial content, and Bonnier wants Mag+ advertising to include both pin-ups and applications readers can appreciate.
Well, I have opted to go to the source regarding Mag+ and its first creation: Popular Science. I asked Mr. Jonnet what he thinks about all the changes taking place in our industry. His first reaction was to quote the famous saying “May you live in interesting times…this can be a curse and a blessing,” he said. These are indeed interesting times, and as I have learned over the years any time we use the word “interesting” it means we have no earthly idea what is going on. So I asked Mark whether they know what they are doing or are they just learning as they go? His answer, “We are doing more learning as we go. We follow our CEO Jonas Bonnier’s philosophy: fail fast and fail cheaply. It is exactly like skiing, you don’t learn how to ski unless you fall a few times along the slope.”
Popular Science has been one of the few magazines that has experimented with different digital formats. From the basic digital magazine that was identical to the printed magazine to the special interest web-only magazines known as Genius Guides. So why all this “testing” in public? “We felt there are no downsides for experimenting in public,” Mark said. “Even if the others imitated us, we will learn from our failures and change them to successes. We will always be ahead of the competition because we are aggressively experimenting. Failing in public does not scare us because that is how we learn.”
And talking about learning, I asked Mark whether he thinks that we are seeing the end of print and whether our industry is on its death bed. “The industry as a whole is healthy and robust,” Mark answered. “We will have print for years to come. We continue to deliver a strong magazine product both in print and now on a digital platform. Our product is meant to be consumed, and how it is consumed is a different story. We have to deal with the realities of the market place, the raising cost of paper, postage, distribution, and the changing technology.”
Is the iPad the salvation of our industry as many are predicting now? “We never had a device for people to consume,” Mark commented. “The web is classically a lean forward medium with a self directed quest for data. There is too much separation and gap between the customer and the web. In our case, we did not have the device yet when we started experimenting, but now I feel we have the device and I am exceedingly impressed. A device that you can actually hold, use to e mail, interact and is very comfortable. It is an extraordinary device.”
However, he was quick to add, “I am pretty proud of what we can accomplish now, but this is just the beginning. The iPad allows the consumer to engage with the magazine the same way the printed magazine does. It allows for the consumer to do other things at the same time whether watch television or something else. The web is NOT a magazine. The core qualities of what a magazine is are not found on the web. But now with PopSci+ the core qualities are delivered digitally on the iPad. The core definition of a magazine is that it is a periodical that is published at known intervals, delivering specific content that has been curated to meet the readers expectations. A lot of very careful thinking goes into the production of such a magazine.”
Are we seeing, to quote Popular Science tag line The Future Now?
“What we’ve done now is just the beginning,” Mark said. “We have the Mag+ that offers those six designs (see above), and in the next two months we will introduce the Hot Heated Mode that will allow users to comment, share, store and e mail from the pages of the magazine by rubbing on that specific page on the iPad. We are going to make use of the touch functionability of this device to great a unique experience. We want to create a magazine that is NATIVE to the device, that feels very natural. So rather than deconstruct the magazine to fit the device, we opted to construct a new magazine that benefits from the screen and the touch. This new device provides us with a new mountain range, you can see the text and separate it from the pictures or you can remove the text and just see the pictures…the possibilities are endless.”
So is it all about the “bells and whistles” that is going to help with our salvation? Mark was quick to issue an essential warning that seemed to be lost in our digital world. “Of course all these bells and whistles can be added now, however, if it can be added, it does not necessary mean that you should. We have to carefully curate what is best for this medium. We have to be careful not to assault the readers.”
What about the future of print I asked? “Well, we are not in such a dire situation in terms of print. Our circulation is very robust, there is no lack of demand for the printed edition. In fact, it is a fallacy that magazines are in trouble. Yes we had some hard times economically, and we felt it on the advertising side, but we are coming out of the recession now and things should get better.” Mark added, “Having said that, I think what we will see in the future is publishers migrating their readers from print to the tablets. The product is going to get better, and the better it gets the more migration we are going to see. However, print will be with us for the foreseeable decades. Print is not going to disappear in the near future. It is amazing that we, who are in the business of predicting the future, can only say that in the predicable future we are not going to see the death of print for decades. We are going to see the shift more in favor of the digital from print.”
What about journalism education and what educators should be teaching in the classroom. ” While it is necessary to teach the technology, however it is not sufficient,” Mark said. “The fundamentals of good writing, good reporting and editing must continue to have as much value, if not more, than the technology. It will be a mistake not to embrace the technology, but it will be a bigger mistake to ignore the fundamentals of journalism. We must embrace the new technologies and give students the opportunity to use them and learn how to publish on them. The new generations are the “Tech Natives”…that’s why I love hiring young people. They are both energetic and ambitious and they know all these technological devices. It is in their blood.” However, another warning from Mark regarding the technology and technological devices. Be aware that is is very much of a mistake to push the “fetish” of the technology and give up entirely on the core of journalism.”
Any final words of wisdom from the guy who is reconstructing the future of magazines, one technology and one device at a time?
“As I said in the beginning, the saying ‘may we live in interesting times” can be either a curse or a blessing. I like to think it is a blessing.”
Me and My iPad
Last night my 64 GB iPad arrived. It felt like Christmas in the office. My colleagues and assistants gathered around “the opening of the box.” The first disappointment was the packaging itself. It did not feel like an Apple package. Second disappointment was the weight of the device. Third disappointment, I could not use the wireless internet on campus because I could not download the Cisco security software needed on campus on all wireless connections (Problem solved the next day by sending my iPad’s WiFi number to get a waiver from the security). Fourth disappointment, attempting to spend my first night with my iPad at home, between learning how to use the device and the major thunderstorm passing our area, it took two hours to download the Popular Science+ April 2010 issue. Fifth disappointment, I did not know how to carry my iPad home. It came with no cover and I could not trust my briefcase to be the safe transportation vehicle for the device. Sixth disappointment, as I started to enjoy my iPad in the morning, I downloaded the latest GQ issue and as I was watching the Gillette video ad, my iPad froze. I could not even turn it off. I had to call Apple Support and they came to the rescue.
After all the aforementioned disappointments, I had to enjoy my iPad. I spent $699.00 plus taxes on my new device. I talked about it in class. Its functionability reminded me with the scrolls of centuries gone by. We are no longer limited by the dimensions of the page. You can scroll down, right, left… Space is no longer an issue. The issue remains what will get you engaged, what will keep you on the page and what will bring you back? It is all about the experience. I hope one day your experience with the device is much better then mine. I have to come back for another experience, mainly because I spent too much money to toss away. Stay tuned!