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Reinventing the Magazine for the Digital Age


In the VDZ-Jahrbuch 2012 The author of “Innovations in Magazines World Report’ on behalf of FIPP, sees 2012 as the beginning of a defining ‘digital-first moment’ for publishers

JUAN SENOR, Partner, INNOVATION Media Consulting Group

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting di!erent results.” "is quote attributed to Albert Einstein sums up the conundrum of the digital age faced by many publishers today. "Their organisations, workflows and skills are still predominantly paper-centric and still focused on putting out a printed bundle every week, month or quarter.

"Their digital platforms are merely a repository for the content written, edited and designed $rst for the printed product. Repurposing the content is still the norm – and this in spite of two decades of dizzying and exciting digital developments of all sorts; from the web to smartphones and today’s tablets. However, one should not be surprised. "The history of human communications repeats itself. No medium has ever killed another medium. Film did not kill theatre. Television did not kill radio. "The Internet will not kill Print. However, every time a new medium comes along the genres of the old are re-created in the new. When film was invented, the first movies consisted of theatrical productions that just happened to be filmed. When television came along, news bulletins consisted of two chaps smoking cigarettes and reading the news to a microphone as if it were radio with pictures. "The internet has come along and publishers are still using the medium as a repository for their text-based content along with some pictures and captions. And even more so now that tablets have come along, the predominant format are pdf versions of magazines sold via digital kiosks. No re-invention, no innovation. Just doing the same thing and expecting different results.


As we have written in our third ‘Innovations in Magazines World Report’ on behalf of FIPP, 2012 is the beginning of a defining ‘digital-first moment’ for publishers.

Indeed, there are inflection points in history that sages predict and when they come, we all panic. "is is one of them. "The digital revolution has come of age and changed publishing so, so deeply that nothing will ever be the same… or will it? Technology and social media are changing everything and nothing because our ‘journalistic and commercial soul’ remains while we get more readers, new audiences and loyal communities. A magazine – regardless of its distribution platform – requires planning, imagination, good reporting, great editors, magical art directors and compelling advertising messages, now more than ever. 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the internet. For publishers the first decade of the web was one of dismissiveness at first and polite investment second. "The second decade saw the advent of highly disruptive sites, services, platforms and social networks.

"The present decade has already seen the boom of a plethora of web-enabled mobile and tablet devices that clearly point to a bright and promising future of new engaged audiences. Indeed for the first time in history, the problem with magazines is not one of readers – most can reach more readers than ever before – it is one of revenues. "The new mantra to reach those revenues is to become ‘digital-first’. At INNOVATION we do indeed espouse and promote a digital first culture of editorial and commercial integration. But digital-first should not mean digital-only. "The story is what comes first. So, we rather believe in a ‘story-first, platform second approach’.


"The message is still good storytelling, segmented content, compelling covers, beautiful photography, great design, clever headlines and serendipity. And all this in print, online, on tablets and on mobile. And yet we still meet publishers and editors stuck in the mud, denying the undeniable. Others believe every digital fable touted as ‘the next big thing’ while losing sight of what really makes a good magazine. And some are injecting digital botox into ageing print titles without first embracing innovation and good journalism. But at the end of the day it is only good storytelling and innovation that will drive the future of this industry in print, from print and beyond print.

"The problems of magazines will inevitably always be solved with more and better magazines, more and better crazy ideas, and more and better editors and publishers not afraid to take risks.

So let us go back to basics. Let us look back at the glorious belle époque of magazines to see what our future should look like."There is nothing more modern than a good classic.

So let’s look back and reflect on those great magazine storytellers, risk takers, dreamers with crazy ideas that turned their crazy ideas into brilliant businesses because they produced relevant content that excited, moved, informed and transformed minds and hearts. But first, think about the iOS vs. Android battle. iOS is a tightly controlled Apple operating system. Android is an open Google operating system. But Apple cares about content, design and simplicity. So if you are going to produce an app for an iOS device you must be ready to comply with high quality standards, that you will not face producing for Google.


Well, Apple rules the mobile media world not because its system is better than Google’s but because they offer more and better content. "That’s the same strategy of Amazon with its Fire tablets. "They are not as good as the Samsung, Apple or Microsoft ones but… they offer a lot of content at a lower price. But there is a big difference between an iPad and a Fire device. A crucial one: colour and high definition which in themselves have become information – or content. More and better information that produces more and better content. So, Apple offers better HD content which we are willing to pay for because we consider it a richer and more enlightening media experience. "is has always been the key factor in the magazine world.


"The British “London Illustrated News” was an instant-success because nobody was able to produce on a weekly basis better and richer graphic content, presented on good newsprint and with excellent rotogravure printing. At the beginning with just simple or rich wood carving illustrations, the first dramatic portrait pictures, unique aerial views or amazing black and white and full colour or unique infographics views. "The French “VU” magazine became another successful formula in 1928 for the same reasons: fantastic candidcamera pictures first in black and white later in sepia and full colour, plus two new graphic content innovations: the first and best photojournalism essays and ground-breaking strongly opinionated pictures about strikes, wars duels or hangings, presented with new and striking type and design patterns.

And nobody did it better than Henry Luce’s LIFE in 1936 with a large-size picture magazine during the Great Depression devoted to “show and tell” in a big way with the best of the best world’s photojournalists: from Alfred Eisenstaedt to Margaret Bourke- White.

LIFE, LOOK and many other “graphic magazines” died not because their content was not good but because millions of readers were not enough to pay for a print publication challenged by new “mass media” advertising platforms like television. Only National Geographic was able to survive and strive against the new broadcast media, but today we are witnessing the rebirth of a new generation of graphic media thanks to digital tablets. In our view, what "The London Illustrated News, VU, LIFE or National Geographic did in the beginning of the last century becomes just the first step of a graphic revolution that now will drive readers, audiences and communities to these new digital devices. "The last iPad offers an astonishing HD touch screen that, again, makes content, first class content, better than ever. So, the good news is this: we need caviar-journalism, we need first class on and off-line reporters, writers, news illustrators, infographers, photo and video journalists, and multimedia editors.But how do we get back to those glory days? How can we inspire and facilitate the work of a new generation of digital journalists? "The first obvious insight is that we cannot expect them to deliver rich-media content that stands out in digital devices and speaks to a digital generation without changing their workflows, skills and editorial tools as well as their architectural environment. Workflows need to change. Skills need to change. Editorial offices need to change. Web and print teams need to fully integrate. At Innovation we have been working with publishers for years helping them transform linear, paper-centric editorial team into fully integrated multimedia operations.

“We’ve always done it this way” doesn’t work when it comes to creating exciting new content for tablets and mobile phones. Digital platforms cannot be approached with the same workflows and procedures that have been used to produce print magazines and their corresponding websites. "e new digital narratives of the 21st century require a complete reinvention of work spaces to house a single, integrated editorial team that can connect with potential audiences across all platforms, all the time. Magazine companies must migrate from serving readers to serving audiences, and from serving audiences to connecting and creating ‘profit communities’ that will consume their content on any platform at any time of their choice. "The challenge facing editorial departments is to figure out how these increasingly complex communities can be kept in constant contact with their content - and newsrooms must be re-organized to produce more for those who pay and less for those who do not pay.

Newsrooms can no longer use linear workflows which only produce text and pictures. "ey must embrace the full experience of interactive digital narratives by combining text, photos, infographics, audio and video. "The magazine editorial department of the future (which is now!) involves reinventing a print-focused editorial department into a fully integrated Information Engine™ (as we have coined it at Innovation). It requires deep re-engineering of traditional workflows to put creativity, planning, and content development across all platforms at the core of the production process. "The most effective editorial teams are those that remain in a permanent state of flux, constantly changing and adapting to the latest digital platforms and devices that consumers follow and adopt. Integration is not a destination, it’s a constant process.

"The audience is always the starting point. We study, chart, and analyze the information consumption cycle of an audience and build structures that produce multimedia content that is relevant to the audience throughout the day – on paper, online, on air, on tablets, and on mobile. Workflows should reflect and accompany the daily activities and content consumption patterns of audiences. Magazines that were organized with linear workflows designed to meet a single deadline for a printed product, now find themselves overwhelmed by the multi-deadline demands of their online and mobile platforms.

Consequently, editors and journalists are often asked by publishers to do more with the same or fewer resources, and to “feed too many beasts.” It is as if they are constantly spinning in a hamster’s wheel which prevents them from creating quality content for any platform. "This spinning cycle can be broken by transforming editorial operations into Information Engines™ divided into Intake and Output as illustrated in this blueprint. Intake is in charge of organizing all incoming information from reporters, correspondents, contributors, social media, or other sources as it becomes part of the daily workflow. Its function is to create content in a platform-agnostic way for all mediums: paper, online, mobile, and tablets. Output is responsible for all elements of production for specific platforms, titles, and outlets. Its staff, organized in shared production pools, works with Macroeditors to program code for apps, and shape, design, and illustrate content for each platform, combining text, video, audio, and infographics as needed for each application.

For a magazine to be able to take advantage of mobile and tablet opportunities, it needs to present products designed and edited to match the unique characteristics and markets in both booming new-media device categories. Tablets and mobile content is not only read, but it is also watched and manipulated. "is means that editors must commission from journalists content to read, watch, and touch. "e ‘touch’ effect is achieved through infographic visual storytelling, where charts, graphs, maps and 3-D content can be clicked or finger tapped in every which way. Innovation has developed one of the first mobile workflow management manuals. "is diagram shows some of the most important roles in working on mobile/tablet production pools. "The alternative to not integrating online and print departments, the alternative to not transforming our workflows, the alternative to not redesigning our editorial working spaces with modern media architecture is, well…insanity.