Digital Magazines at an Awkward Age

The publishing institution, the Magazine, is at that awkward age; it’s been thrust into the Digital environment, but it hasn’t outgrown its Printed look.

Many magazines – including construction trade magazines -–  have put themselves online, perceiving (quite correctly) that it’s the only way they will survive.  A few have cancelled their print editions altogether, but most have opted for both forms of delivery for their content.

Some have created digital editions that are formatted as websites.  Others have sought to port their entire format, advertising revenue and all, into digital replicas of their print editions.  Both approaches have drawbacks.

The website format typically does not have the advertising impact of print.  Large ads are a difficult stunt to pull off because the web formatting is strung together entirely by the editorial content.  With links directly from the article’s page 1 to its page 2, there’s no need to flip through a couple of half-page or full page ads to read the article.  So ads in these formats tend to be small, and command less money for the magazine.  In other words, it is simply a slower route towards the magazine’s extinction.

Digital replicas offer those stunning full page ads, but both ad and article are hard to read in the full page view.  The type is too small to read.  The full page view is really for navigation only.  The close-up view is the reading view, and it requires a lot of scrolling around to see everything on the page.  It simply destroys the visual cohesion and impact of a full page ad the entire time you’re close enough to read it.

Magazines need to embrace digital publishing on its own terms, not as an extension or a port of Print.  Pages should be formatted in landscape mode, and designed the way tasteful websites are, for screen viewing.  They need to forget what they know about print formatting, but not forget what they know about good design.  To remain viable businesses and useful advertising and publicity vehicles, magazines need to embrace the digital space more wholeheartedly.

Until they do, it might be worth re-considering your ad strategy in both online and print formats, and make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.  In a digital-replica magazine, a well-designed half page ad online may actually be more impactful than a full page, because you can see the entire ad and read it at the same time.

Also, the next time a magazine ad salesperson calls, it might be worth suggesting that they re-think their online format to create a truly digital magazine that’s formatted for computer screens, not magazine racks.