Thursday, September 07, 2006

Glossies for the Gizmo Age

A new trend has emerged among magazines in heading to the web to attract college students with a digital edition that puts high-quality scans of the magazine's pages online.

Will it change the way magazines are designed?

Since college students are one of the most difficult groups to have as subscribers, given their transient nature of residences, this completely makes sense. Additionally, as I mentioned in a previous post, magazines (especially those geared toward younger audiences) have already begun to migrate to the web.

But will a significant increase in digital subscriptions prompt magazines to themselves offer the service? What's more, will its potential popularity carry over to the magazine's pages?

At the moment, magazines are optimized for the page. With big, glossy, colorful images, their layout grabs the eye as they are held in hand. And while it still sounds farfetched, digital editions of magazines (and newspapers) aren't that far off - many magazines make digital references in their text.

But will there be a reverse influence, prompting the design of the magazine to change?

In my opinion, it's possible that such influence will show up in subtle ways. But what's most likely to happen is that a digital edition, optimized for the digital experience and not just a pixel-for-pixel upload of the magazine's pages - will gradually replace its printed sibling.

Popular Mechanics' EIC Jim Meigs says a magazine is, above all, a collection of information. Yet MPA president Nina Link says her organization believes that one medium doesn't replace the other. Currently, she's right - digital editions are just one more choice augmenting the field. But has she taken notes on the migration of news subscribers to the web, or CD consumers to iTunes?

The newsstands want to know: at what point is a medium "replaced"?

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