The World of Digital Magazines
The arrival of webzines in the mid-90’s was not without contention. Many repudiated the new-media form questioning the usability, reliability and point of the web-based, digital magazine.
In a media world rich with print based periodicals, that don’t take two minutes to load up or run the risk of disappearing altogether mid-read, queries about creating interactive, online versions of our print favorites were, perhaps, noteworthy. However, as someone who has been publishing online for quite some time now, not to mention someone who is continually impressed with the rapidly emerging and improving mobile media tablets, I’m forced to consider whether the future of magazines is online, offline or somewhere in-between.
The webzine market is now most vibrant on a handful of internet based publishers who are essentially the zine libraries of cyber space. Issuu has always been my library of choice and, according to their website, it now attracts over 30,000,000 monthly readers and it’s digital book shelves are restocked with 250,000 new publications every month. Issuu makes it possible for anybody to contribute towards the webzine community and, thanks to exceptionally interactive and user friendly web-software, requires a minimum amount of technological know-how from its users. Therein lies for me the first thing that makes the webzine so attractive: Comparative to the money-sapping print alternative, web-publishing can be completely free, thus liberating the individual or small company to produce very cost effective publications.
Perhaps comparing webzines to print magazines is the wrong comparison to make altogether. In previous generations, before the arrival of the internet, zines were the hand-made creations of individuals or groups who, for no money and very little recognition, supported the ethic of DIY media and were often concerned with subjects too niche for mainstream print media. Webzines may then have more in common with the hand-made art-zines of previous decades than they do with the commercial, financially taxing print magazine industry. With web-publishers such as Issuu creating a virtual gallery of reading and viewing pleasure on any number of subject matters and interests, many webzines pay homage to the indie-zines made on kitchen tables back in the day. The do-it-yourself culture that surrounds webzines encourages some exceptional creativity and layout designs that probably wouldn’t make it to print. Some great examples:
Late last year Virgin launched ‘Project.’ A glossy, iPad only, lifestyle magazine which single handedly catapulted the digital magazine form into the mainstream. Much of the mainstream were, once again, dissatisfied with the efforts to digitize the magazine-style however and words such as ‘clunky’, ‘messy’ and ironically, ‘archaic’ were thrown into the reviews mixer. Importantly though, the iPad and other such tablets are still relatively new platforms, and developers and designers alike are still arguing over the best ways in which to utilize their always online, always ready and always interactive capabilities.
Of course, as I flick my way through ‘Project’, I too can notice the creases that need to be ironed out, but, on the whole, the potential to hear audio clips whilst reading an article on one page, then flipping over to view video footage and reviews on the next, whilst all the time holding the virtual magazine in my hands, are very exciting for a small-time webzine publisher such as myself. When eventually the world of computing see’s everyone using tablets on a daily basis as seems likely, and someone gets around to developing user-friendly tablet-zine publishing software, the digital magazine may just become as popular as it’s print counterpart.