The Future of Magazines?

Wired just released an iPad version of the magazine a few days ago and it seems to be selling quite well. Apparently it basically consists of a giant 500 mb archive of PNG images.

The magazine is already being heavily scrutinized. Interfacelab has posted a widely linked, scathing review:

The only real differentiation between the Wired application and a multimedia CD-ROM is the delivery mechanism: you download it via the App Store versus buying a CD-ROM at the now defunct Egg Head store at your local strip mall. And I really mean that comparison. For all of the interactivity that was touted in the Flash prototype, what we’ve really ended up with is a glorified slide show. Instead of the “Next” and “Previous” buttons you might have been used to on those old CD-ROMs of yore, you instead swipe left and right to change pages (well *cough* images of pages).

[...]

The problem with these XML + images architectures is that they are essentially reinventing HTML with no added benefit. When I showed the Wired app to a colleague of mine, someone I consider to be one of the top HTML/Javascript developers in NYC, his assessment was the same: Why the heck didn’t they use HTML5? We stepped through each “page” of the Wired application, looked at each interactive piece – but failed to find anything that ruled out the use of HTML and JavaScript.

Information Architects also posted some very critical analysis:

First, the paper magazine was crammed into the little iPad frame. To compensate for the lack of interactive logic, this pretty package was provided with a fruity navigation. In the end it was spiced with in-app links, plucked with a couple of movies and salted with audio files (“interactive”). Then it was off to marketing. And it sold 24,000 copies. Dammit. It’s the Nineties all over again.

For the most part i think these articles are spot on, yet on the other hand, they miss one crucial point entirely. When I see these new magazine apps on the iPad, i inevitably have to compare them to their corresponding websites, and let’s be honest – the Wired website is a rather depressing pile of tiny annoyances and technological frailties. It seems to have constantly decayed and deteriorated ever since Douglas Bowman’s excellent 2002 redesign.

I find this typical of professional publishing ventures on the web. For some weird reason, the publishing industry seems to have come to believe that in order to make money online, they need to treat their readers like shit. They are splitting articles across a gazillion separate pages to increase pageviews and they are forcing terribly invasive Flash and banner ads on their readers until their eyeballs explode. At the same time, their websites look noticeably worse than their print products and it appears that they are spending considerably less effort on creating a polished and compelling online product. As far as the web is concerned, they’ve already given up. It’s really no wonder that people aren’t willing to pay for something like this.

And that’s why i’m excited about these new efforts by the publishing industry, like Wired magazine or Popular Science: Because they are once again striving to deliver high quality digital products and a good user experience. It’s no surprise really that they are reinventing the wheel for no good reason and that they are building platforms on terrible technological foundations – the same was true some twelve years ago on the web. But at least they are trying to produce something of high quality again. Now let’s wait and see how this turns out in the long run.

Added later (June 01): Aegir Hallmundur of Ministry of Type weighs in as well.

Even later (June 04): Joe Clark has an interesting post about this as well.