Books Are Not Magazines, and Vice Versa

Craig Mod recently posted a new essay in relation to digital publishing — the throat swallowing titled “The ereader incompetence checklist (for discerning consumers, editors, publishers and designers” — and as with everything else he’s written of late, it’s a must read for anyone with even a passing interest in the topic.

BUT, I do have to say that I’m starting to disagree with some of his stances, and mostly because I feel that he continues to treat the digital treatment of books and magazines in a similar manner, while these are in fact quite different mediums, and the way we interact with them is quite different as well.

The biggest issue I have with his views on magazines is that he prioritizes readability over any thoughts of design, and that’s just not how I experience most of the magazines I love. For me, the beauty of the magazine medium is in its marriage of text and images, and the ways that art directors manage to combine these in an appealing presentation. Text alone or images alone do not make a magazine (although I’ll readily admit that there are some magazines, like The New Yorker, where it’s really just about the text).

While we were out for drinks the other night — in commemoration of his leaving Tokyo for more “digitally charged” pastures — he mentioned how his favorite magazine experience on the iPad is through Instapaper, and I think that says it all. Don’t get me wrong, Instapaper is not only of my favorite apps (on both iPhone and iPad), it’s also one of the apps I access the most, and it’s because of it that I was able to get back into reading long-form journalism (something I’ve never felt comfortable doing over the web). But a great magazine experience? There’s no magazine experience there at all, it’s just a better way of reading an article, independently of any design touch.

For me, same goes for Flipboard, the “Social Magazine.” While yes, it does offer a more pleasing (compared to the web) and magazine-y way to read collections of articles, the fact that it’s automatized means you quickly tire of the layout. I think “Social Newspaper” would be a better way to describe it, since most of the time (and emphasis on the “most,” since there are definite exceptions out there) layouts in newspapers tend to be conservative and relatively standard. It’s why I love the New York Times iPad app, and wouldn’t really want it to change (although I’m quite tired of the inclusion of image heavy/slideshow photo rounds-ups, with the images missing).

So going back to Craig’s piece, I’m of course all for a greater level of accessibility in digital texts, but when it comes to magazines, not at the price of losing any though of layout that doesn’t simply copy a web-like approach (long flows of text).

Update: The discussion continues — with a response from Craig — in this post.

Published by Jean Snow

Project Manager at Ubisoft. Before that, half a life spent in Tokyo.