Different Magazine concept approaches

April 19th, 2010

In the past we weeks we did a lot of research for our Magazine proof of concept. Part of that research was studying what was out there already: video concepts, blogposts, visions and what have you. Many people are working on a concept for iPad it seems and there are different ideas about how one should present a magazine on a multitouch tablet device like iPad. For our study we have evaluated these approaches in order to learn as much as we can from it. All with the objective to create the best digital user experience for the iPad.

4 Different approaches

Let us briefly descrive the four approaches we identify with what we think are their pros and cons.

1. Straight PDF conversion

The most simple way to make an iPad magazine, is to convert the paper magazine into an application.  To read the next page, you slide to the right. Each article page fits exactly the screen size of the iPad, so you don't have to scroll up or down like a webpage. For publishers this approach can be done with a low budget. They can reuse the design of the paper magazine without having to worry about automatic rendering and new interactive features. Issuu and Zinio are examples of this approach.

Pros: - This approach is very low-budget. The PDF of the paper magazine can be reused.

Cons: -  No interactive features -  None of the possibilities the iPad offers are used.

2. Paper magazine as starting point, but with extra features

Most publishers realize that converting their PDF to an iPad app does not result in a very rich user experience. The iPad app market will be full of magazine applications, so applications with limited interactivity will soon only be used for the cheapest publications. Woodwing has an interesting alternative. Their solution offers possibilities to add extra features to your existing Adobe Indesign document. They offer a plugin for Adobe Indesign to extend your pdf. With that plugin it is possible to - for example -  add video and to add image gallery effects.

Pros: - Relatively easy conversion from print to digital - Rich media integration and advanced features like image galleries which are not possible in print magazines

Cons: - the magazine doesn't use the full strength of the iPad. The content has not been designed for the screen but for paper. - Inflexible layout: because the content is made for print the layout is fixed. The content can not be dynamically fitted to different orientations of the device.

3. Handcrafted solution

Big publishers are really excited about the iPad. Some publishers have set up a research team to find out how to create the best reading experience. They realize how important the iPad (and multitouch tablets in general) is going to be. The publisher of magazine WIRED has come up with a completely handcrafted magazine. So besides a team of designers for the paper magazine, they also have a team of designers and programmers for their iPad application. It is great to see what they have made. They do stick to a page based magazine. This means every page is designed and made by hand twice; one for the portrait view and one for the landscape view. Their app seems not to support autorendering or font-size changes, but this is not a problem like in the PDF approach, because pages are redesigned for the iPad.

Pros: - This magazine is a real iPad app and uses the device to its full potential

Cons: - This solution is very expensive. Not all publishers will have the possibility to set up second production for the iPad and put this much effort in for each issue.

4. Our favorite approach: redefining the magazine

Bonnier has come up with a more inventive way to present the magazine. Every magazine has an opening page with a title, some text and images. This page has to trigger the reader to read the article. If you want to read the article, you have to scroll down. When scrolling down you can read the rest of the article. This view is more content oriented, just text with possibly some images or videos. It is not as rich as the top of the page. When you slide to the left of right, you go to another article. This navigation is intuitive, but also very flexible. Articles don't need a fixed size. Changing the font size should be no problem. The reader has full control; you can always put the text in the center of the screen; or slide up whenever you want. The navigation is based on articles, not on pages.

Disadvantage of this approach is that articles are designed using some template. Because this solution is reproducible, less variation is possible. For example Bonnier chooses to use one column of text in an article (in their original design), while WIRED variates the number of columns. Of course different templates can be made that will offer different designs, but there won't be as much variation as in a handcrafted solution.

Pros: - This solution is reproducible - This solution is very flexible, articles don't have a fixed length - Navigation is very intuitive

Cons: - Less custom design compared to a print magazine

All in all it is interesting to see those different approaches. Each approach has their pros and cons, but it is great to see that magazines realize they must offer a digital version of their magazine for tablets. It is a new device and the only way to find out what works is by experience.