An essay by Craig Mod has been making the rounds lately among media watchers. It’s a terrific read. Mod, a current independent writer and former Flipbook employee, touts what he’s calling the Subcompact Manifesto, which places a premium on a minimalist approach to digital publishing.
His manifesto emerges out of one of the main criticisms ‘traditional’ publishers have received for their tablet magazines and apps: They’re unwieldy, hard to use, have too many bells and whistles and take up too much room. But most importantly, they’re tied to print production schedules, design and pricing. In other words, tablet editions are not exploiting the medium in the open, nimble, socially-forward way they could and/or should be.
As Mod says:
So why do so many of our digital magazines publish on the same schedule, with the same number of articles as their print counterparts? Using the same covers? Of course, they do because it’s easier to maintain identical schedules across mediums. To not design twice. To not test twice (or, at all).
Unfortunately—from a medium-specific user experience point of view—it’s almost impossible to produce a digitally indigenous magazine beholden to those legacy constraints. Why? Not least because we use tablets and smartphones very differently than we use printed publications.
The key here, for Mod, is the "indigenous magazine"—a product born exclusively for the mobile-digital platform, free of any print production and pricing frameworks.
He goes on to highlight The Magazine, created by Marco Arment, as a perfect example of the digitally indigenous magazine. It’s short (four or five articles), it’s design is breezy and open, it’s file size is small, it’s cheap and easy to snack on.
This all may be true, and there’s probably an audience for The Magazine and future brands just like it.
But what’s wrong with publishing a tablet magazine that’s full of print magazine design and rich media content, that’s $4.99 for a single copy and might take all night to download to Apple’s Newsstand? Nothing, really, because there’s room in the market for the digitally indigenous magazine and the digital magazine that’s married, for good or bad, to its print namesake.
I understand that with digital comes an expectation of disruption and re-invention. And not just an expectation, but actual disruption. But it’s also a world where all sorts of business models live and play.
I don’t think Mod is necessarily saying all publishers need to drop their old-school, print-legacy-based digital magazines and start producing $2, 4-article, scrolling mini-apps. He does say though, that publishers are balking at producing products like these because they’re not based on a familiar model and they’re not likely to produce immediate and significant returns. Funnily enough, neither have the full-blown tablet magazines, for now.
What will be interesting to see is how much the subcompact model informs or influences the sedan version of digital magazines—or simply rides next to it.