MUD day 18:
It’s a new dawn and I’ve awakened with my usual optimism and generosity of spirit restored. Today I see things a bit differently. Magazines aren’t dying, they’re simply transmigrating.
You see, the soul of a magazine is not to be found in its format. LIke every other kind of communication, a magazine is expression, transported in a vehicle. If you pay undue attention to the vehicle, the format, you’ll miss the important thing being expressed.
When new-media thinkers talk about transparency, they’re usually thinking about ethics. We need to think of it in terms of expression and formats as well. The point of new media is immediacy, direct connection, and that works best when the format recedes into the background of your attention and becomes virtually invisible. This is one reason for Twitter’s success. The pared-down simplicity of its vehicle doesn’t get in the way; you focus on the words, the expression, not the technology or format.
That highlights the problems with digital magazine formats so far. When you have to spend too much of your time clicking and zooming, you become too conscious of the medium, and lose sight of the message.
Eventually, expression will have its way. The various urges to communicate that constitute what we think of as the magazine will find the transparency that suits them best.
MUD day 17:
There are days, perhaps when my inner curmudgeon breaks through my usual resistance, when I’m convinced that magazines, as a useful format, are truly dead. Yes, it may just be me or my desperation for a topic in this month of mandatory daily blogging. Ask me tomorrow and I may feel more hopeful. But what has me worried is my oddly sour reaction to this Folio article on magazine design. A few years ago I would have been vitally interested. Now it just seems irrelevant.
It’s not just the paper version of magazines I’m pessimistic about, but the very concept. There are some who feel that tablets will be the salvation of magazines. I’m not so sure. One of the negatives in Linda Holmes’s review of the new Kindle Fire today is that its 7-inch screen is too small for magazines. Full magazine pages, she says, don’t work well: “You can zoom, but when you [turn] to to the next page, you pop back out to seeing the full page, and to read anything, you have to zoom again.”
But having just last night downloaded with some interest the December issue of The Atlantic to my iPad, more than a third larger than the Fire, I’m not so sure size is the real problem. Paper pages just don’t translate well to the screen—the turns are slow, images build too slowly, the fonts are too big or too small. You need to enlarge and shrink too often, or tap too many times to get to the better “reading view.” The articles might have been pretty good—but I don’t know. I was too distracted to actually do any concentrated reading.
To me, books seem like an eternal format. They work as well for me on a tablet as on a page. But the format to which I dedicated most of my professional career has a poor prognosis in any medium. I fear I will soon be attending a funeral for my old friend, the magazine.