Jul 12, 2011

From Print to Blog (and Back!)

Marsha Plat's picture
Marsha Plat
Director, User Experience

Since working with the world’s largest digital newsstand, we’ve been following various ways to publish, discover, read, share, and buy magazines. (Hot Studio also has a particular fondness for design magazines.) One thing I’ve been considering is the difference between a blog and a print magazine. It really is a different experience to read a blog than it is to read a print magazine. Besides the obvious differences in digital verses paper, the formats are very distinct.

I recently found four new digital magazines that live somewhere in between the blog and the print format. They all started out as blogs but moved to a more traditional print format using PDF, creating the “Design-Pubs-Powered-by-PDF” category.

These four magazines happen to be shelter magazines (the industry term for magazines about home decorating, style, and architecture) and were featured in the Style section of The New York Times last month. The trend started in New York with Lonny in October 2009. One of Lonny’s founders had been an assistant at the print magazine Domino which shut down that year. She and her co-founder decided to fill the void left by Domino. Lonny was followed by three similar magazines; San Francisco-based Rue and the more recent High Gloss and Matchbook.

These magazines were started by younger women without a whole lot of publishing experience who built a following by blogging. Although they began in a digital format, the blog, they moved to an old-school print format that mimics the print magazine, the PDF. Once they moved to PDF they could create rich visual experiences, but they also lost a lot and inherited limitations. These limitations are somewhat based in Issuu, the technology chosen to display the PDF, but even Lonny, which built a custom reader, has similar problems.

What got lost on the journey from blog to PDF?

Social Sharing

In each instance, social sharing is associated with the magazine as a whole, rather than pages, articles, or even photos within the magazine. Meaning that if I want to share the gorgeous High Gloss article “Five things to do in Bogeta,” I can’t do it. (Although, I can share a link to the entire High Gloss magazine.) I can pin something using a tool like Pinterest, but I have to pin the entire two-page spread. This really is the biggest loss since most people want to share something specific rather than general.

Readability

The other big problem is the quality of the type. It’s just frustrating to see type that is fuzzy on an otherwise beautiful page. I know there are limitations based on screen resolution and I read plenty of fuzzy type in blogs, but I still find it frustrating. Maybe my expectations have gotten too high from reading my magazines on the iPad.

Awkward Zoom

The first thing you want to do when you see fuzzy type is zoom in to read it. Unfortunately the zoom controls on all these magazines is very limited (sometimes limited to just one level in) and extremely awkward. There is user confusion between clicking away to content and clicking to zoom into content. (Oddly enough, reading on the iPad, which should make zooming easier with the pinch gesture, is an even more awkward experience because of the lack of support for the page swipe.)

What can a PDF do for you?

Limitations aside, there is a lot that is wonderful and new about these magazines. They are able to create experiences that weren’t possible in the blog format and new experiences that take the print magazine further than the static page.

Beautiful, Expansive Photography

Some of the photography is incredibly beautiful. It really is a new experience to set the magazine to full-screen and flip through photos that expand to fill the screen. (See the photos of Bogeta above.)

Integrated Commerce

There are also lots and lots of photos of items that you can buy. Shelter mags naturally lend themselves to shopping and it’s fabulous to see something and immediately be able to click to buy it. (In fact, I found a nice sink from IKEA in Lonny.) Many photo spreads also have links to items to buy within a room. Lonny has a feature to turn on rectangular outlines around links for items to buy within a photo.


What’s next for these magazines?

Some have created a pretty big following and landed big advertisers. Lonny has ads from Bloomingdales, Room & Board, and West Elm. According to the New York Times, “Lonny reported 243,229 unique visitors to its most recent issue, High Gloss said its last issue had about 130,000, and Matchbook cited a figure of about 75,000; Rue wouldn’t give specifics, but said its readership was in the “hundreds of thousands.” I’m sure their readership will grow given their recent exposure. Maybe with the growth, they can address some of the problems and start building out more and more interactivity. I look forward to the next issues.

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