Digital Magazines Emerge—But Glossy Paper Publishers Haven’t Turned the Page on the Past

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moved completely beyond the metaphors of paper—but perhaps you can only stretch readers’ sensibilities so far before you have to stop and let them catch up.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear whether Flyp is a real business or just an experiment. Its parent company, Flyp Media, is financed by Alfonso Romo, the mogul behind Mexico’s Indigo Media, and so far the publication hasn’t been selling advertising or producing other visible forms of revenue. Flyp‘s editor-in-chief, longtime magazine journalist and editor Jim Gaines, calls the publication “a proof-of-concept experiment in terms of multimedia story telling” rather than a commercial product. I think the concept has been proved; I hope the company can find a way to monetize it.

If you really want a sense of what I mean by the unique affordances of digital media, and how magazine designers might use them, take a look at this concept video (also embedded below) produced by Bonnier, the Swedish holding company that owns magazines such as Field & Stream, Popular Science, and Popular Photography. Take the video with a grain of salt; it’s just a demo, mocked up by a design consultancy in London called Berg, and it will be years before the interfaces like the ones shown are working on real devices. But what the video demonstrates is that someone, at least, is thinking deeply about the “geography” of magazine content, as the Berg designer in the video puts it.

For example, even though text and images are, at some level, at odds with each other—one is there to induce and immersive reading experience, and the other is there to provoke amazement—they don’t have to compete. Instead, the video shows how each can be literally brought into focus when needed. (I love the Berg designer’s observation that the page-turn animations in most e-magazine readers are “not terribly believable” and that they “don’t feel very honest to the format of the screen.”)

There’s been a flurry of online discussion in the last couple of weeks about e-magazines, especially with the announcement by a consortium of publishers, including Condé Nast, Time Inc., Hearst, Meredith and News Corp., that they’re working on joint standards for some kind of digital magazine storefront. The details are still vague, but the consortium members no doubt feel that they can’t afford to let Amazon continue to make the rules in the e-publishing world. (About 40 mainstream magazines are available so far for the Kindle 2 and the Kindle DX, which actually make very credible e-magazine readers.) And they probably want to do what they can to pre-empt Apple, which—unless Steve Jobs has completely lost his touch—will try to use its rumored tablet device to disrupt the publishing industry in the same way that the iPod and the iPhone have disrupted the worlds of music and mobile applications.

Magazine publishers may finally be realizing that they need to greet the digital future proactively, or risk going the way of the newspapers. Let’s hope they also realize that this may require moving beyond familiar concepts like pages, and thinking instead about how to use the new tools at hand to tell more compelling stories.

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Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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