Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

MediaWatch: Lessons Online Publishers Need To Learn From Print Media

Posted by Tom Foremski - December 5, 2011

By Matthew Buckland, publisher of Memeburn

I've had a long career in online media. I don't really know much about the print world, except that you get your hands dirty when you page through newspapers.

The closest I've come to deadwood publishing is running the internet departments of newspapers. It's a strange world to work in. You're an evangelist, a pioneer and something of a disrupter.

That's why I never thought I'd say that online publishers need to start thinking like their print counterparts -- magazines in particular. It occurred to me -- and this is a generalization -- that many of the online-only publishers I know make poor tablet applications. Why? Because they are thinking like websites, not thinking like magazine people.

Now I'd like to qualify this and say that putting a print PDF on a tablet and calling that a media revolution is a cop-out. That's not innovative in the technological sense of the word. It's lazy and does not take into account the new environment (a mobile, multi-touch, location-aware, internet-enabled digital tablet) your publication finds itself in. These are phase-one approaches.

Print magazines have their limitations, but there is something about the usability of a magazine that makes it special. Quite simply, a magazine layout works better for tablets. It was Apple that taught us, quite successfully, that no matter the digital context, there are certain usability paradigms that are universal. It's why iPad contacts appear as a leather-bound book, and we are able to scroll with a flick of a finger, flip through screens with a swipe, and pinch to zoom photos with such ease and intuition.

People have been turning pages for centuries. It's become, dare I say, second nature. People like big glossy pictures, with integrated text. They like infographics and diagrams that tell a story. When people say they "like the feel" of a newspaper or magazine, what they really mean is they "like the usability" of these mediums. The paper part is irrelevant, and not particularly desirable. In fact, while paper may be dead, newspapers and magazines are very much alive.

Your digital magazine should not be a flat print representation, but should come alive with search, transitions, interactivity, real-time social media integration, and so on. Al Gore's Our Choice app or Murdoch's The Daily are brilliant examples of this.

It's not just websites that should be more magazine-like, but newspapers too. In fact, newspapers should look more like magazines in the tablet context. Why would you create a (largely) text-heavy, black and white newspaper on a colorful, high-resolution iPad? I can think of reasons for this in the print world -- issues of cost, speed and deadline, for instance but in a digital environment these are not an issue.

But let's not only talk about tablets. There is a vision for the web's future that sees it become more "app like". It would see websites becoming high-resolution in a high-bandwidth, HTML5 world. All websites would start to look glossier, have high fidelity... more like the rich retina applications we find on smartphones and tablets. It means larger, high res images, luxurious fonts -- and yes, a more magazine-like layout.

Some things don't change. As a species we are attracted to beautiful things. We like attractive layouts. We like big, bold images. There's no reason why a printing-press culture needs to haunt us. Thank you Gutenberg, but goodbye.

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Examples of tablet magazine-like layouts:

The Good - The Daily.


The Challenged - News24.


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