Offline Magazine

Among the many things I’ve been working on for the past six months is spending a bit of time helping entrepreneurs Tom Smith and Brad Flaugher realize their very canny vision for mobile publishing. It’s called Offline Magazine, and it debuts today in the App Store.

Each month, Offline delivers five essays about culture, comedy or design, curated as a proper issue (I wrote one of the pieces in the debut edition). The Offline app itself is beautifully designed (not by me, but by Trevor Baum) and purpose-built for mobile reading. That last bit is incredibly important; this is a reading experience expressly designed to complement reading habits on phones and tablets, not demand new, unnatural ones.

Continue Reading

Don’t Forget, the Sunday Paper Is Still Great

The weather is hot but it’s beautiful out nevertheless, a great day to head to the beach or lounge on a shady lawn somewhere and enjoy the gorgeous lack of inertia that often characterizes summer Sundays. It used to be that I’d spend these days — every Sunday — reading the newspaper. Once upon a time, I had the luxury of declaring that Sundays were my time and mine alone, and as such it was therefore my prerogative to spend as much of the day as I liked doing something immensely enjoyable but also good for my brain.

These days I have a young family, and a startup — and, let’s face it, ubiquitous Internet access that makes printed paper seem obsolete — so I can’t recall the last time I indulged myself with the Sunday paper anymore.

But jeez, the Sunday paper is still great, still an amazing product of a long, long tradition of careful editorial packaging and art direction and just general purposefulness. If I could afford to spend a whole day with it again, I would, and for anyone who finds themselves with a Sunday to kill, I recommend picking up the Sunday edition of your local newspaper.

Yes, of course we can get news from so many different outlets now, and we can manipulate the delivery of news so it’s so much more convenient than the huge, intimidating tome that is the Sunday paper. But we can also, from time to time, take out a day to enjoy it. Maybe not every Sunday, but once in a while we can find a day to benefit from this still amazing weekly product that’s designed to reward a few hours of our undivided casual attention. I bet if you do this you’ll come across a story you probably wouldn’t have read otherwise, and spot an ad for something you would’ve missed otherwise, and, maybe best of all, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time surfing aimlessly the way you would have had you spent those hours on the Web. Hurry up and give it a shot, because sadly the Sunday paper is not going to be around for much longer.

Continue Reading

An Illustration for Stack America

Stack America is a neat service in which subscribers get a curated bundle of independent magazines sent to them every other month. The titles change with each delivery, but all are selected by editor Andrew Losowsky from among the best of the many eclectic, hard-to-find titles produced by the independent press.

The subscription also includes bi-monthly installments from what Stack America calls “The Designers Series”: graphic prints created exclusively for Stack America by invited designers. Andrew asked me last year to create something for this series, but I was reluctant to say yes for lack of a good idea.

Continue Reading

The Other Kind of iPad Magazines

For the past few days I’ve been using and enjoying TweetMag on my iPad, a new app from the smart folks at Toronto design studio Teehan + Lax. It’s a beautifully designed reader-style application that “uses your Twitter account to create simple magazines.” It’s very much in the mode of Flipboard, which also transforms your social media stream into magazine-like presentations of eclectic content.

I’ve often spoken of Flipboard as a promising hint at a truly new kind of reading experience, one that employs the power of social graphs and the magic of superior user experience design to present users with a coherent view of the world. Flipboard, in my opinion, is the first step on what will either be a long road or a steep climb towards a new way of interfacing with written content. Unfortunately TweetMag, as nice as it is, isn’t quite that second step. It’s an attractive refinement with merits of its own, but it’s still not the breakthrough that this genre of software is looking for.

Continue Reading

The Sad Story of Illustration on the Web

I’ve argued that you can’t design for digital publications the way you design for print publications, but that doesn’t mean that what we leave behind in the print tradition is not missed online. One of strengths that print designers have long brought to their publications is illustration, where artists are commissioned to create visual translations of an article’s most salient or provocative concepts. Print publications have a long, long history of truly great illustrations that became indelible companions to the content they accompanied. Not so much online.

In fact, in digital media, illustration is missing in action, and its absence is palpable. I can’t think of a single, regularly publishing, large-scale digital publication that uses original illustrations prominently, much less pays illustrators a working wage for their efforts. By and large, digital publishing traffics in photographic images, most of them literal — an article about President Obama will be accompanied by a photo of President Obama. Occasionally, when the subject matter of an article doesn’t inspire obvious photo selections, a bit more imagination becomes necessary. This is where, given different economics, digital publishers might turn to illustrators. Instead, they turn to stock photographs, usually with awful results. Here are a few I found this morning.

Continue Reading

iPad Magazines Go to ’11

It’s still too early for me to say “I told you so” about iPad magazines, but nevertheless I think it’s worth pointing out that the current evidence shows that this format is not doing well. The Audit Bureau of Circulations, which is sort of like the Nielsen of the print magazine industry, reported that sales of magazine apps across the board, from Wired, GQ, Vanity Fair and others, slumped precipitously towards the end of last year. More on the specifics in this article from paidContent. The bloom is off the rose, I think, and the reality that people just don’t like to consume magazine content in the monolithic, issue-centric form that these apps take has caught up with the irrational enthusiasm that we saw in 2010.

Continue Reading

More on iPad Magazines

I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming response to my post from yesterday, “My iPad Magazine Stand,” in which I laid out my thoughts on why most of the current crop of iPad magazine apps have dim prospects for long-term success. The thoughtful comments left here on the blog as well as the steady stream of RT’ing on Twitter have been terrific. It reminds me how lucky I am to get consistently intelligent and lively conversation in response to what I write. For a blogger, there’s nothing better. (It also makes me glad as heck that I didn’t follow my original instinct; when I finished my first draft of that piece on Monday, I actually decided not to publish it, fearing it was too shapelessly reasoned.)

In fact, I had wanted to jump into the conversation myself earlier but I’m under two deadlines at the moment so life is kind of hectic. Plus, I often like to see comment threads play themselves out without my interference before I engage — I find that the general direction of a conversation evolves more naturally if I hold back from potentially derailing it too early. After following along for a while though, there were a few quick things that came up that I felt I should respond to. So this morning I started adding a comment at the end of the thread but, as it got lengthier and lengthier, I decided to publish it as this blog post instead.

Continue Reading

My iPad Magazine Stand

Because I recently left a job at one of the most prominent publications in the world, people often ask me about my opinions on the cavalcade of publications rushing to the iPad — those apps designed and developed by newspapers and magazines principally to deliver their print content — and the chances I see for their success. So here it is.

To start, I think it’s too early to say anything definitive about whether these apps will become lasting delivery mechanisms for print content and brands. There’s still a lot that we don’t know about the iPad and its forthcoming competition, particularly about how user behavior will evolve as these devices become more integrated into daily life. So while I may use some definitive language in this admittedly very long blog post, I freely grant that the future is a mystery to me as much as anyone.

Actually, in conversations with people I know at various publications, I’ve been quite surprised by stories of strong advertiser interest in these apps. Anecdotally, publishers report heavy demand for advertising space, and in some cases apps have sold out of their ad inventory through the end of the year or even further.

That’s an encouraging indicator, but I think it may be more a sign of a bubble than the creation of a real market for publishers’ apps. According to Advertising Age, the initial enthusiasm for many of these apps has dwindled down to as little as one percent of print circulation in the cases of some magazines.

Continue Reading