Hello! I’m Samantha Stocks.

I’m a writer based in Bristol, UK.

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Thoughts on the future of magazines

The future of print is increasingly being questioned as the digital world all but takes over. Last week I covered an augmented reality app called Layar Vision, which combines print with digital using smartphone devices. In addition to this, there are a number of other promising ways to join printed magazines with digital – if indeed print does in fact need to be assimilated into the virtual.

For the sake of argument, let’s say it does. What is currently out there that allows us to do this? A few of examples (not including tablet devices) include Flipboard, Paperlit and 3D Issue. These are applications that digitize print magazines.

3D Issue

3D Issue software creates a digital version of your publication in Flash and HTML5, which can then be viewed in on smartphones and tablet devices. An eBook option for devices such as the Kindle and Nook allow you to sell via the Kindle or iBook stores.

You also have the option of creating digital magazines or newsletters from your blog or RSS feeds, content is searchable and zoomable and can be made media-rich, and digitizing your content in this way is beneficial for SEO.

Aside from these points, what I think what is especially cool about 3D Issue is that it enables you to edit content even after digital publication. If there is a typo, or any other error, this can be amended afterward – never before possible in publishing!

However, what I think is even cooler than that is the fact that the reader can add notes and bookmarks and can share individual stories from the magazine. This is definitely taking digital publication in the right direction.

Paperlit

Paperlit is a web and mobile publishing solution for newspapers, magazines, and catalogues. Using this solution you can publish to mobile and Facebook, create additional media-rich content, and additional advertising opportunities.

It works using pdfs – so whatever print material you have must be converted to a pdf first. From there, Paperlit does all the work for you: converting your files to different screen resolutions, including for mobile and tablets.

But perhaps what is most interesting of all is its integration with Facebook. Each publication using the service will have a Facebook app, and they can choose to give their publications away for free, or payment can be subscription-based, or issue-based. Content is searchable, can include photos and videos which can be opened in an overlay, which can then be ‘liked’ separately – a great way to gain further visibility.

Using this service will tell you which articles specifically are taking off and going viral, plus articles that have been read will display on the individual’s timeline; free advertising, essentially. This is gold for advocacy – people often choose to read what they know their friends have read.

This is could be a pivotal step for publishing. However it does seem that there are some limitations with design, and I can’t help but think that Facebook is becoming something of the virtual version of Starbucks or MacDonalds; soon you won’t be able to avoid it. Yet at the moment, it does seem to offer the best place to share content on the internet.

Flipboard Pages

Flipboard overcomes the design issue with Facebook, and in fact more than overcomes it but makes it an essential part of its strategy. Perhaps the app is the most on the money at the moment when it comes to digital publishing. The company has positioned itself as a leader in browsing content posted on social platforms. Designed for use on the iPad, when an article from any one of the publications whose content has enabled for use on Flipboard (including Lonely Planet, ABC News and The Washington Post Magazine) is shared on Twitter or Facebook, the reader using the app will be able to read the article in a beautifully designed magazine format when they click on the link or article excerpt. Flipboard explains that the design of the layout is more likely to increase publications’ viewership and cause more people to retweet, share, and ‘like’ the content, seamlessly and naturally combining the world of publishing with social media platforms.

As it is one of the most popular apps available on the iPad, it certainly seems to be giving consumers the kind of reading experience that they enjoy using. Is there anything more valuable in the magazine industry?

What can digital do for magazines?

Until recently, it hasn’t been possible for people to interact with digital publications in the natural way that they would with print; and interacting with print is a very natural thing for people to do: my mother still sends me clips of articles in the post from time to time, and I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t scribbled down a note in a book, magazine or newspaper, or circled an address or advert. What of the personal nature of books; the personal touch of someone else’s notes in the margins if you buy a second hand book? Will we loose all of this by switching to reading digital versions of our favourite magazines and books?

I would argue that it is important not to lose this; that we should incorporate all of the ways people naturally interact with print publications into the digital versions. This opens up whole worlds of possibility for engagement, analysis, sharing, and perhaps most importantly, allows people to embrace publications online in a way that they would not have been able to otherwise. It makes the reading experience personal.

The ability to share articles, bookmark, and make notes (marginalia) is a very valuable way to spread ideas, make comments, and spark conversations. This is something that needs to evolve in digital publication. Although tablet devices enable marginalia to a certain extent, it doesn’t flow as naturally as it does on paper, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. Hopefully this is something that will be developed further in time.

I began this post by saying that for the sake of argument, print does need to be assimilated into the virtual world. It is still a matter of much contention whether it does or does not; however the advantages are clear, and it is clear that as a society we are shifting our focus more and more to the online world in all aspects of our lives. Although there may always be a place for printed products (of that I have no doubt), it would be foolish for publications to bury their heads in the sand and hope that everything will continue as normal, because it’s likely that it won’t. It is time to keep a very close eye on changing consumer behaviour, yet also keep in mind the behaviour that has always stayed the same (the desire to share, for example). To move forward successfully, the two must go hand in hand.

To sum up, I’d like to end with a quote from Craig Mod, designer at Flipboard, with a quote on the future of books:

‘To think about the future of the book is to think about the future of all content. So intertwined are our words and images and platforms, that to consider individual parts of the publishing process in isolation is to miss transformation connections.

These connections shaping books and publishing live in emergent systems behind the words. Between the writing and the publishing, publishing and consuming, consuming and sharing.

We have an opportunity now to shape these systems. And in doing so, to refine the relationships between authors, publishers, readers and texts. ‘