Magazines of the Future

I love magazines and I buy more of them now than I ever have. I love the feel of them, the shiny pages and the big glossy images. I like the way good design and good writing work together to create something that feels made or intended. I don’t get those experiences from the Web, though the vast majority of my reading is now done online. Magazines are like an icecream sculpture in a fancy restaurant; the Web, by comparison, is an unstable snowfield on the brink of avalanche.

But I have hope. Firstly iPhone apps such as McSweeney’s show what can be done in terms of delivering nicely produced, good-looking content on a small device. McSweeney’s has proper typesetting and feels good to read even given the constraints of a tiny screen. Secondly Apple’s attempt to revive the album through iTunes LP shows what can be done when the constraints of the devices involved can be tightly controlled. Interestingly, given the current hype surrounding ‘content in the cloud’, neither of these examples is truly an ‘online’ experience, since the content is downloaded to a device. The result is that it is tightly controlled and not subject to bandwidth issues. Apple does something similar with its Apple TV, storing content on the device, rather than streaming it on demand across the network like other media players. In terms of magazines the following remarkable video shows what might be possible.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

Small Print-Run Journals in the Digital Age

A few days before Christmas the editor’s blog at Identity Theory featured an insightful post in which Andrew Whittaker wondered what the point of small print-run literary magazines might be. Many of these journals, he notes, have at best a limited online presence; some are not online at all. In 2008 while I was employed as Online Editor of The Reader Magazine, tasked with creating a website for the magazine and the Reader Organisation itself, the problem of how much material to put online came up a lot. The fact that it was seen as a problem is instructive enough. I contacted several of the magazine’s contributors to ask if I could publish their work online, but every one refused. In one case a poet actually had ‘his’ editor contact me to explain why exposing his work to (back then) 5000 eyeballs was a bad idea. I guess that poet must be selling thousands of books and being read by millions. Or maybe not.

In fact the Reader Magazine under editor Philip Davis was quite open to trying online publication. We started a blog and began publishing back issues of the magazine online as a download and using Scribd (and I’d recommend you take a look), but after I stopped being a paid employee back in October 2008, the online development went no further. The magazine remains primarily a print journal; it is trailing behind excellent online journals such as The Rumpus and Identity Theory and finds itself speaking only to a (relative) handful of people. The Reader is a journal that measures its subscribers in hundreds yet features big names such as Andrew Motion, Seamus Heaney and Camile Paglia. That’s a terrible shame.

Here’s a taste of the Identity Theory post:

These publications put their stories above their readers. But without readers, the best story is as good as a blank page. Readers, it turns out, want different things than they did fifty or even ten years ago.

The necessities of print submission and distribution created, over decades, an entrenched sense of hierarchy, that good stories logically move from writer up to editor and back down to reader. But readers, with new online practices introduced by other media and applied to everyday life, expect a conversation with the people whose work they read. They expect a feedback loop. They expect access to literature.

This should be a golden age of literary journals. And it is, for some larger forward-looking publications. McSweeney’s, the New Yorker, Tin House, and others have found compatibility between financial sustainability and what my old boss Henry Jenkins calls “spreadability”, removing barriers to sharing content so that fans can build communities around that content.

Successful literary publications know that obscurity is the shortest path to failure.

Read more here.

The Reader Magazine #35: Starting the Reading Revolution

READER 35 cover-blogThe Reader magazine has been around for over ten years and has always been passionate about books and reading. In issue 35 it gets serious about its mission. Entitled ‘Starting the Reading Revolution’ this issue contains a special editorial by Philip Davis, who writes ‘This is not simply a magazine any more, it is a campaign’.

Also in this issue:

    New poetry by Les Murray, Connie Bensley and Tom Paulin; and John Greening writes the latest in our ‘Poet on His Work’ series
    New fiction by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Richard Flanagan
    Essays by Catherine Pickstock on Tracey Emin, and Paul Kingsnorth of the Dark Mountain Project on the myths and stories that threaten our world
    The Reader Gets Angry a searing indictment of teacher-training in this country from Gabriella Gruder-Poni
    Interview with Liverpool composer Kenneth Hesketh
    Recommendations from Adam Phillips and Frank Cottrell Boyce

You can buy your copy of #35 here. Or subscribe here. Recent back issues of the magazine are available as a free download and on here.

via. The Reader Online

The Reader Magazine Issue 33


The Reader magazine issue 33 arrived earlier this week and it looks like another good issue. I’m looking forward to sitting down with it over the next few days. You can download issue 32 for nothing from here. Here’s the blurb for 33:

The first issue of 2009 includes new poetry by David Constantine, Gary Allen, Andrew McNeillie and Angela Leighton.

There is new fiction from Clive Sinclair and the conclusion of Mary Weston’s three-part story, ‘The Junction’;

Camille Paglia‘s writes on the poems that did not make it into her collection Break, Blow, Burn;

Jonathan Bate gives us a wonderful extract from his new Shakespeare biography, Soul of the Age and we publish an exclusive piece from Rana Dasgupta’s forthcoming book, Solo;

Plus, there’s a host of interesting pieces for ‘Reading Lives’, with Barnsley poet Ian McMillan writing letters to his younger self, Marshall Brooks connecting reading with canoeing, and Sue McGuin suggests what to read in a remote African village.