The digital revolution and availability of new digital technologies has had a huge impact on the publishing industry and the way in which we, as audiences, consume magazines. The introduction of web 2.0 started to encourage consumers to look at digital content differently and they began to realise its potential. As Frank Rose notes in his book, The Art of Immersion, it is the first medium that can act like all media – it can be text, or audio, or video, or all of the above. It is nonlinear, thanks to the revolutionary concept of hyperlinking, and is inherently participatory – not just interactive. It responds to your commands and acts as an instigator, constantly encouraging you to comment, to contribute and to join in. This new form of participatory media has had a direct impact on our consumer habits. We’re no longer just consumers, we’ve become prosumers, and this has had a knock on effect on the publishing industry’s decision to invest in new technology in order to cope with this shift in consumer behaviour.
New ways of presenting content
Publications originally began to test the waters by building websites to accompany their publication. However, it was soon apparent that magazines and their webpage counterparts served completely different purposes when attracting audiences; magazine covers are designed to capture an audiences’ attention on a newsstand, surrounded by other magazines – their job is to stand out. Whereas a website has already captured the audiences’ attention – its job is no longer to attract audiences to the website (like a magazine cover), but to ensure that there’s enough interesting and engaging content on the homepage to keep the audience browsing. DigiDay explores the different purposes of print and digital further in their article, Should publishers take web design cues from print?
Building websites for publications where far more exciting and engaging formats were now available for audiences to engage with was hardly groundbreaking. In a recent study conducted by Mag+ in, Make Digital Magazines and Engage with Your Audience 2013, they examined content consumption and found there were 33 million consumer-owned tablets in 2012; the Apple iPad was the most popular with 83% of Europeans that owned an iPhone and a tablet disclosing that it was in fact an Apple product (see figure 1). The focus on technology had shifted from accessing the Internet via different formats, to downloading apps on tablet devices. Publishers now produced digital editions of their publications; producing an app was one of the first steps towards achieving this.
Interactive Design and how it can be used in Publishing
Interactive design is a manifestation of the digital revolution. With new means of presenting content across multiple platforms, the publishing industry utilised interactive design to digitalise their articles via apps and tablet editions. Publications such as Vogue and Glamour have both been inspired by some of the new digital technologies available to digitalise their content across new formats i.e. iPad editions.
Essentially, content is being digitalised because publications are having to adapt to this new change in order to stay current and to remain in demand.
In print, articles are static and offer no immediate audience participation, but in digitalised iPad editions, articles are being brought to life through interactive design.
By embracing new technologies, publishers are now able to offer users an interactive edition with more engaging content and as a result, audiences are now able to engage with content in a way that print could never offer: hiding and showing content, playing media like videos and music, panning and zooming the page, tapping for alternative views of an item and other conventional digital elements such as clicking, scrolling and swiping (see figure 2 and 3). Being able to interact with the content in a new and immersive way has allowed audiences to experiment with the content and create a personal experience using only the elements that they want to engage with. Although publishers place the content, audiences can pick and chose whether they want to watch or listen to the media available, or chose to simply bypass them.
The expansion of content across multiple platforms (see figure 4) has given publishers more space to play with and created new marketing opportunities. Publishers are learning how to cleverly distribute content to ensure each platform presents the content in the most engaging way possible, whilst also trying to avoid repetition of the same content across multiple platforms. As publishers, they must also take into consideration the design aspect of the content: is it designed and displayed appropriately to suit the functionality and purpose of the chosen platform? And does it reflect the brand identity of the publication?
So what technology and software are publishers using to digitalising their content? And how successful is the software in delivering an interactive digital edition of the publication? Interestingly, there is no one dominant piece of new digital technology or software that is collectively used by publishers in the industry. Instead, you find that publishers are all trialling expensive custom-made software in the hope that one of them will provide them with technical stability and creative opportunities all in house.
Future PLC, Bath’s largest publishing firm, have made their own semi-custom made software, which is loosely based on Mag+, to create their digital publications. However, their custom-made software is said to allow minimal interaction, which begs the question as to whether they’re making the right software choices for their publications.
Half of the attraction of digital publishing is the interactive element and the ability to bring content to life using interactive design. Without this, it’s merely a replica of the print copy that is mobile or iPad ready.
Mark Sweney notes in his 2014 Guardian article that Future PLC has recently ‘undergone major restructuring since the arrival of new chief executive Zillah Byng-Maddick, the former finance chief at AutoTrader’s parent company, including reducing headcount from 980 to 577. The company reported a 20% decline in revenues, from £82.6m to £66m, as print sales and advertising continued to decline steeply. Print revenues declined by 26% from £52.2m to £38.7m, while digital and diversified revenues fell slightly from £30.4m to £27.3m.’ So despite their huge restructuring and digitalisation of content, the company has still lost £3.1m from their digital and diversified revenues. What element of their digitalisation is failing to increase revenues? Perhaps the minimal interactivity offered by their software is hindering them from truly progressing further, especially when the competition has utilised new technology effectively.
One platform that has lured publishers in based on those very pretenses is Mag+. With all the promise of being one of the most flexible and efficient digital publishing platforms in the world, its interaction was mild and limited. Having said that, interactivity is difficult to define in an era where everyone has a different perception of the term. To some, they may have only ever been exposed to digital content with minimal interactivity, so to them, reading a magazine on a digital device may be quite a sophisticated level of interactivity. But to others, who have been exposed to high levels of interactivity through gaming, they might pick up a digital edition of a magazine and be totally underwhelmed by the quality of interactivity made available. It’s quite subjective, which makes it hard to determine the quality of the interactivity provided by platforms such as Mag+.
However, Mag+ and Adobe Digital Publishing Suite no longer just want to sell you the software like they did with InDesign, they want to go beyond that and hook everybody into their subscriptions. But most publishers don’t want to do that. Traditionally, they’d be able to buy the software, make the magazine and sell the magazine. But now they’ve got to pay Mag+ a percentage of what ever they’re selling because they’re tied to their platform.
So theoretically, buying into something like Mag+ or DPS can work out quite well providing on the publishers financial standing. For a company like Condé Nast, both secure in their financial standing and already fluent in Adobe programs, buying into a piece of software like DPS is hugely beneficial and something they’ve recently invested in. Someone has already done the leg work by producing a platform that is specifically tailored for magazine and book production, so publishers can focus on what they do best which is curating, shaping, writing and editing content. Ultimately producing one coherent, aesthetically pleasing and interactive digital publication.
Tom Wallace, editorial director at Condé Nast, says ‘it’s probably the most exciting time to be in magazine publishing, and this is occurring because of the arrival of the tablet… we have been very fortunate in developing a relationship with Adobe, because they will enable us to bring to the digital space all that we have accomplished in print, and then some. Engagement with the reader is everything, without it we’re nothing… touch technology will transform what magazines are, transform the way they are made, the way they are marketed and the way they are consumed… we want to be everywhere the consumer wants us.’
The digital revolution kick-started the desire for more interactive and immersive content, being able to offer this to their audience was important in combating the competition from other forms of entertainment. This influenced the decision to begin digitalising content – first through websites, then through digital platforms for tablets. Publications like Condé Nast have embraced the digital era and adapted their content to create a new user experience. The quality is high, the platforms are used effectively and appropriately and the interactivity is as engaging as a digital publication can be without losing its original magazine identity. Thanks to the availability of new digital technology, we’re able to consume magazines across a variety of different platforms.