May 22, 2013

Content as Medium

The Loop > Magazine > Issue 2

By Matt Gemmell

Before turning the page of a magazine, my mother licks her finger. I assume she does it to make it easier to separate the next page from the rest. She even does it with newspapers. I always found the habit disgusting, and when I was about twelve years old, I told her so. She still does it, but now with the gleeful knowledge that she’s annoying me.

The early days of digital publications provoked a similarly visceral response in me. Periodicals would proudly launch their electronic counterparts with lengthy explanations of the available gestures and interactions. I remember watching promotional videos where effervescent, well-dressed people sat “reading” their iPads — cheerfully pinching, swiping, flicking and tap-holding, as if they were giving the device a chiropractic massage.

The industry seemed to assume that it was the very physicality of books, newspapers and magazines that we craved — or that we required in order to comprehend the idea of a digital equivalent. The industry was wrong. Digital newspapers that were actually much more like TV news-channel tickers have now all but disappeared. Page-turning animations are becoming similarly endangered. So what was the problem?

A focus on the medium. Consider your favorite print publications (of yesteryear, if you no longer buy any). What did you enjoy about them? Was it the tactility of the paper? The smooth, responsive transition as you turned the page? An appreciation of the ads? Or did you perhaps never think about the paper, and find page-turning a minor if rarely-thought-about inconvenience, and automatically skip the ads without really seeing them?

Similarly, what did you dislike about your favorite mag? Did you long for the content to update before your eyes, to be able to spin images around with your fingers, to change the layout on-the-fly, and to actually hear an interview as well as read it? Probably not.

What you liked was the content. That was the make-or-break aspect. If the content was good, you kept buying. Now we jump forward to the second decade of the 21st Century, and find publishers oddly focused on the delivery mechanism instead – to the detriment of what’s actually being delivered.

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