Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Why journalism matters: Tablets and coffee tables

The Face - 1995 courtesy of Oli Pyle

A few months ago I wrote that digital magazines like Bobbie Johnson's Matter - recently sold (and where's my Kickstarter backer's dividend, Bobbie?!) - were reshaping journalism through nailing the delivery mechanism.

But these characters look at the issue in a slightly different way in their piece in Campaign, where they describe the traditional magazine experience like this:

"Someone (was) willing to walk into their local newsagent every week, browse and leaf through the wonders on offer until they found their perfect partner and parted with their hard-earned cash in order to acquire it and take it home. And, once read, it would be carefully put on display with its predecessors, thus allowing the reader to exhibit to the world a sense of their character and good taste."

... compared to the world of modern mobile magazines which is like this:

"We get what we want, when we want it. We don’t expect to wait. We don’t expect to pay. We have the attention span of a small child and we like our content in bite-sized chunks. We simply don’t respect old media any more."

Something that has been annoying me for a while is how desperate I am to use my iPads and Kindles to consume content. I've tried it a lot, downloading countless magazines, books and news aggregators but always reverting back to more 'traditional' means after a while.

The only 'reading' services that I ever really stick with are Flipboard (because it suits fast tablet-based browsing and sharing) and the Cheezburger app (because I love pranks, fails, and picture of cats). Every other app is social media, video, gaming, or messaging of some description.

The problem, I've just realised, is my coffee table. The coffee table has always been the plinth where we humans display our intellectual diversity and prowess, idly (but carefully) leaving copies of The Face and Wallpaper alongside selected works from the political history section of our bookcase for people to notice when they come over.

But not any more. Nowadays, the symbol of success (and the thing that seems to affirm our own success to others) is our technology. The coffee table features a phone, tablet (or two) and laptop. Unfortunately, everyone has an iPad and they all look the same. You can't even see what's on it unless you're using it (which might be why 50 Shades of Grey did so well).

And this is why the experience of tablet magazines is so important. We don't cherish magazines. We don't bring them home and show them off any more. We want to use our iPads and iPhones and Kindles to consume content. When it's good, we shout about it by telling our friends and sharing bits of content via our social channels. When it's bad, we delete the app and never go back.

Magazines are not like they used to be. Nowadays, the delivery format has overtaken the content. The secret to success - which was my point about Matter - is making the delivery format so slick that it dissolves into the background.

Once the delivery becomes a joyous experience I'm far more likely to chat over coffee about the magazines I'm reading, rather than just bore you about my latest coffee table gadget.