No Magazines, No Life (Not Anymore)

Magazines are dead.

I write this first line as someone who loves magazines to death — I used to run a site called The Magaziner, after all — and who looks forward to picking up the latest issue of Monocle each and every month. But they really are dying, aren’t they.

The latest sign for me was the conversion of the iPad edition of Entertainment Weekly from a properly produced iPad edition to something that is nothing more than a PDF. Yet another magazine I can’t read on my iPad anymore (I despise reading magazines this way, constantly zooming in and out on each page).

For me, the arrival of the iPad and of iPad editions of magazines was a godsend while I was living in Tokyo. Finally, a way to read western magazines without having to pay 2-3 times the cover price. Also, I quite liked taking in magazines imagery on a bright screen, and the monthly subscriptions were a great deal. I used to subscribe to a stack of magazines — to a point where it was difficult to get through all of them each month. Until last week, I still only subscribed to two: Wired and Entertainment Weekly.

But this isn’t just about digital editions. Looking at what you see in terms of mainstream magazines on the newsstands, most of them are nothing more than floppy pamphlets — Monocle is of course the exception, and it’s why I buy it (and it’s not exactly mainstream in the sense that there are only a very limited number of shops in Montreal that carry it). I looked at a recent issue of Rolling Stone — a magazine to which I had a physical subscription for years when I was younger, and then subscribed to on iPad until they switched it to a PDF-like edition — and it was barely larger than a comic book. Sure, there are still a lot of beautifully produced magazines on the indie side, but they tend to be high-priced and do not enjoy print runs that can sustain the industry.

Am I just old and cranky? Sure, probably.

When I did a Twitter rant recently about the changes in the iPad edition of Entertainment Weekly, a friend of mine commented that she was surprised I didn’t just read these magazines from their websites. I replied that I still have a love and appreciation for a properly edited and curated “container” (not a sexy way to describe magazines, but you get what I’m saying), but I think she’s right. If I can no longer get proper iPad editions of magazines, and I’m not interested in paying for flimsy physical pamphlets, then that’s probably what I should do.

What about Wired? It still has a great iPad edition after all. But in recent months I’ve found myself skimming more and more in each issue, to a point where I should probably just read the articles that do interest me on the web.

Magazines are dead. To me at least.

2005

This weekend I managed to finish going through the posts of 2005 (all 1063 of them). As I was going through these posts, I could see that it was a really important year for me. My first professional writing work started in 2004 as I became editor of MoCo Tokyo (a spinoff site to MoCo Loco, where I was also a contributor), and then at the very end of that year I started my monthly anime and design columns for Tokyo Q, but it was in 2005 that I started my monthly “On Design” column for The Japan Times, wrote for Gawker’s Gizmodo and Gridskipper, and also wrote some other freelance pieces. I’d definitely point to that year as the start of my writing career.

It was also the year I started writing almost weekly round-ups of Japanese magazines — which years later led to me starting the now-defunct The Magaziner website. It was also the year of me and Jesper’s first big collaboration together, in the form of our “Mamma Gun” exhibition/event at Cafe Pause, part of Swedish Style/Tokyo Design Week.

I’m pretty thankful that I can go through archives of my life like this, and see exactly how things happened and evolved.

Losing Your Edge

This is the lost post I referred to recently, which to my surprise suddenly popped up again in my draft folder, and so I’ve decided to share it as is, along with a little update at the end.

The Magaziner returns. Sorta.

In recent weeks, I’ve been feeling the itch to bring back The Magaziner in one form or another – and for those of you who have no idea what I’m referring to, it’s a site I ran that was dedicated to the love of magazines, with a slight focus on digital titles/editions. Problem is, earlier this year I let the original domain expire – I did check to see if it was still available, but it wasn’t.

Oh well.

But, I still feel like sounding off on magazines again, since my love for the medium is still strong, and so – for now – I’ll just do it here in the form of irregular posts.

Let’s talk about Edge magazine, and its new digital strategy as of its latest issue.

First off, Edge is what I would describe as the best and smartest magazine out there covering the world of games. It covers the medium in all seriousness, and is a publication that is read by many in the industry. It’s published in the UK through Future. I’ve been reading it for years – can’t quite remember what my first issue was – and although I used to buy it in print (at a ridiculous price from a shop in Tokyo’s Akihabara district), when they launched a proper iPad edition – and by this I mean a digital edition formatted for iPad, that they described as an “interactive” edition – that’s how I continued reading it. As of the latest issue, that “interactive” edition is no more.

What has happened is that what you get now is basically a glorified PDF version of the print edition, with a few highlighted links to look up a gallery of screenshots or to watch a video. On iPads designed for mortals (i.e. not the new iPad Pro), this means that you can’t read the text in regular page view, and so need to constantly zoom in and out of pages. Oh, and now it won’t even save your spot when you’re reading, so every time you come back to the issue, you’re at the front page, and need to manually find your spot again.

Why revert back to such a primitive edition? I’m sure it was a business decision, not wanting to absorb the cost of designing that iPad edition, but not only does it leave us with a fantastically unsatisfying reading experience, they haven’t even lowered the cost of the digital edition.

The content itself is still great – in the latest issue I really enjoyed the interview with Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata, the profile of Square Enix’s new RPG Factory studio, and the piece on adventure game studio Revolution Software, but because of the awful reading experience, I found myself skimming over most of it.

I’ve already cancelled my digital subscription, and I don’t expect I’ll be buying the print edition as it’s not readily available here, and would cost import prices if I did find a copy. If I am still able to read some of it, it will be because the studio where I work subscribes to it.

Update: Since I wrote this, to my dismay, another one of my regular magazine reads has followed the same route, and it’s even worse than with Edge. As of its latest issue (with Star Wars on the cover), Rolling Stone has done the same thing, getting rid of its iPad-formatted interactive design and instead releasing a PDF-like replication of the print edition. But what’s worse is that it’s even more unreadable than Edge, because you can’t even zoom in on the pages, and so if you find the text to be too tiny to read, tough luck. I immediately cancelled my subscription, but really, I’m just shocked to see a backward trend like this of giving up on digital editions. I’m sure it’s all driven by sales and cost cutting (not wanting to invest in designing a separate edition), but it is having the effect of making me leave those titles, since I’m not interested in the print editions (I only like print magazines if they use nice paper, have a special format, etc.)

Cutting Edge

The joys of losing posts.

Last night I wrote a long post about my recent frustrations with the digital edition of Edge magazine, as of the latest issue. I was even positioning it as a sort of return of The Magaziner (the site I used to run about magazine culture). But I somehow lost the post before I was able to post it, and I don’t feel like writing it again.

Oh well.

I think it may have been a sign that if I am to bring back The Magaziner, I should do it properly, with its own site, structure, etc. I’d been feeling the itch of late to bring it back, but had let the domain expire earlier this year, and when I checked recently, found that it was grabbed by someone who just wants to sell for a grand.

How grand.

Who needs domains anyway, in this day and age. It’s vanity more than anything else. And besides, I still have JeanSnow.net.

Knock on wood.

*JeanSnow.net is no longer available*

(That’s what I imagine happening any second now.)

So that’s that, The Magaziner will remain in hibernation for the time being, until I have a really good idea on what to do with it. And hey, PauseTalk isn’t dead.

Dead Collector: Bring out yer dead!
[A large man appears with a (seemingly) dead man over his shoulder]
Large Man: Here’s one.
Dead Collector: Nine pence.
“Dead” Man: I’m not dead.
Dead Collector: What?
Large Man: Nothing. [hands the collector his money] There’s your nine pence.
“Dead” Man: I’m not dead!
Dead Collector: ‘Ere, he says he’s not dead.
Large Man: Yes he is.
“Dead” Man: I’m not.
Dead Collector: He isn’t.
Large Man: Well, he will be soon, he’s very ill.
“Dead” Man: I’m getting better.
Large Man: No you’re not, you’ll be stone dead in a moment.

Hopefully I don’t need to explain where that comes from.

So yes, no big post about the incredibly horrible new digital edition of Edge (it’s basically a PDF now with a few links, and doesn’t remember your spot if you exit the app and come back), no return of The Magaziner (although if you like magazines, take note that the current issue of all Conde Nast titles on iPad are free right now, until November 30, and that includes Wired and The New Yorker), and I’ve probably rambled on enough.

Since we had our first big snow in Montreal yesterday, I’ll leave you with this image by one of my favorite illustrators, Yuko Shimizu (and you can go read this interview with her).

Tightening the Belt

Maybe “Tightening the Belt” is not really the best way to describe what I’ve been doing of late, but I am on a trajectory to make my online presence a bit leaner (and maybe even a bit meaner). As I announced a week ago, I’ve put SNOW Magazine on indefinite hiatus, and I’ve done the same with my little GAME site

Yes, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I just can’t handle all of the things that I’d like to be doing online, at least in terms of my personal projects (i.e. the stuff that doesn’t bring in income). It was getting to the point where I’d feel guilty about not updating these various sites, and I finally figured that enough was enough.

For now, and for the foreseeable future, expect me to stick to just The Magaziner, new episodes of the Codex, the monthly editions of PauseTalk, and the odd scribblings here — there’s another podcast project that I’d like to get off the ground too. 

As for the day job — I’m Executive Director of the PechaKucha organization — things have never been more exciting, and we have a lot of very cool things in the works. It’s also been a pleasure to be working more closely with my good friend Ian Lynam, who has taken on the big task of refreshing our visual identity and online presence.

SNOW Magazine on Indefinite Hiatus

As you’ll notice if you visit SNOW Magazine right now, I’ve decided to put the site on indefinite hiatus. I’ve been quite embarrassed by the lack of updates to the site over the last few months, and I think it’s just better to have it go on leave for a while, instead of the lame life support I’ve had it on.

Why the lack of love for the site? I just haven’t really had the time to focus on it like I’d want, and to be fair, I’ve been much more passionate about what I’m covering on The Magaziner — and the Codex podcast — and I think it’s best that I just let myself embrace those things, instead of continually feeling like I should try to come up with something to write about on SNOW, and feeling stressed about it. In the end, it’ll be for the better for everyone, as it frees me up to do more casual writing here, and to continue my exploration of how the magazine landscape is shaping up as it embraces new digital platforms.

As for SNOW Magazine, I’ll just say that it’s going away for now, with no definite plans on when it will be back, or even in what form. I don’t think I was ever really able to do what I wanted to do with SNOW, and I think — and I’m hoping — that what I’m doing over at The Magaziner will eventually inform what the next stage will be. And yes, I’m already thinking — and it’s what, in the end, I’ve really wanted to do — that this next stage or new form will be more publication-like, as in regularly released packages of curated ideas and stories (some people call these magazines).

Oh, and I will eventually reinstate access to the archives.

The Deal with SNOW Magazine

As promised, here’s the deal with SNOW Magazine and what’s going on.

First off, even though you are now greeted by a hiatus announcement on the front page when you get to the site, please note that you can still access all of the site’s archives.

So why a relaunch? There are quite a few reasons, actually, and I’ll try to cover as many as I can here. I think the first thing I need to say is that for a few months now, I’ve been feeling more and more like updating the site was a chore. I wasn’t having much fun doing it anymore, and so I started thinking about why I was doing it.

If you’ll recall, it was a year ago that the site launched — towards the end of January — and there were a few reasons for doing it. In short, I wanted to continue the art/design/culture covering from Japan I’d been doing for years on my blog, but wanted it to feel less like a blog, and more like a proper site or web magazine. The other goal was to bring together a whole bunch of voices, to build a community out of people I love and respect, to help spread “our” view of this country.

That last part is where the site has mostly failed. Although I did realize that it would be difficult to get a whole bunch of people to contribute regular columns (that I was hoping to be “mostly” monthly) for no pay, that’s why I tried bringing together such a large group — I was hoping that the sheer volume would ensure a regular stream of newness. But if you don’t count the re-posts from Néojaponisme, Papersky, and Art Space Tokyo, the only regular contributor has been Bianca with her terrific “Japanese Package Design” series, and she deserves my eternal thanks for that (and it’s the reason I wanted the final post on the site to be her latest column). Now, I don’t blame anyone, as I certainly know what it’s like to want to contribute to something, but simply getting too busy with all of the other things in your life.

And this resulted in another problem with the site. Since this community aspect of the site was so important to me, I really wanted all of the columns to act as the “meat” of the site, with my contribution being a regular stream of smaller news items and links, to keep the site feeling alive with daily content. While doing this, I also purposely changed the way I wrote these — as opposed to how I would cover them on my blog — giving them a more neutral style. In part it was because I wanted to give the site an authoritative voice (more objective, less subjective).

But in the end, as a friend of mine remarked, what was interesting when I used to do this kind of coverage on my blog was that it was usually placed in the context of how I encountered it — the anecdotes that went with them were part of the fun. On SNOW, it came off as dry, and since the site was pretty much resting on these due to the lack of columns, it made for a relatively boring read.

The other elephant in the room is, well, a big one. I alluded to it recently when I addressed something Momus had said in a recent podcast, and it’s the fact that I’m just not particularly inspired by the creative output of this country these days. This feeling has been growing over the past year, and although I’ve constantly tried to explain it as “just me,” thinking that I’d just been here for too long and that my constant focus on this particularly topic had maybe burned me out on it — and hey, that may really be the case — I do feel like there’s a serious lack of exciting development happening here. That’s not to say there aren’t some amazing creators doing some amazing things, but it’s no longer enough for me to want to base the entirety of my writings on — especially the kind that I do on my own time.

So what do I do? Although I haven’t completely finalized the exact shape that SNOW Magazine will take — and that’s why I’m giving myself a few weeks to flesh that out — I do have a few thoughts on what I’m going to do with the site. Some of these changes include an end to outside contributions to the site, writing longer opinionated/subjective pieces (probably 3-5 times a week), and — the big one — no longer tying myself to covering Tokyo/Japan-related content exclusively. As you’ll notice with The Magaziner, I don’t have a problem writing when it’s something I’m passionate about, and that’s what I want to bring back to SNOW Magazine.

These changes will also bring with them a drastic change in the site’s design, especially since I’ll want it to better reflect the difference in content and frequency.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped me with feedback in the past week or so — your comments and suggestions have been priceless — as well as everyone who has contributed something to the site over the year. Although it may sound like I ended the year with rather negative thoughts about the site, the idea to bring changes has really been invigorating — and liberating — and I’m absolutely positive that SNOW Magazine in 2011 will be even better than what you experienced in 2010, and I can promise that you’ll be seeing other SNOW-related projects happening as well, so stay tuned!

JeanSnow.net Page on Facebook

As you get towards the end of the year, it’s usually a time to reassess the way you do some things, and one thing I’ve decided to do is to take my personal Facebook account and make it just that, personal. For the past year or so I’ve just been adding whoever sends me a request — I imagine after I’m discovered through this site — and it’s gotten to a point where my Facebook account is practically unusable now.

What I’ve done instead is create a new JeanSnow.net page on Facebook, which I’ve also added as the “Facebook” link that appears at the end of every post on this site. A few years ago I had created a JEANSNOW.NET group, which I’ve never done anything with, but decided to get rid of it as I think it makes more sense to go as a “page” and not a “group” — on Facebook, SNOW Magazine and The Magaziner each have pages, but PauseTalk is a group, which I think makes sense.

So apologies in advance if you send me a friend request and I don’t approve it — from now on I’ll be limiting interaction with my personal account to people I actually know.

Praying Mantis Style

Hey, you lazy blogger, aren’t you doing anything?

If you think I’ve suddenly dropped everything, I would remind you to check (and often) my other little web publications that do get a lot of love throughout the week: SNOW Magazine and The Magaziner. It’s amazing the amount of attention the latter has gotten — more than any personal project I’ve launched so far, and I gotta say it feels good. The Magaziner will also be involved in the launch of a very cool project in January that I’m excited about — can’t say anything yet, but trust me, if you’re at all into this whole digital magazines thing, then you’ll love it. And Gym Class Magazine has offered me a regular “The Magaziner” column, starting from the next issue (out in February).

If it’s more Codex you want, fret not, as I’ll be recording a new episode tonight or tomorrow. I absolutely love doing these, and so huge thanks to everyone for the great feedback — it’s very much appreciated.

The title to this post simply refers to the amazing poses my dog performs when he’s jolly and jumping around during play — he would make any kung-fu master proud.

Why I Don’t Tweet About Japan

I just posted something on SNOW Magazine about Momus‘ latest podcast, in which he talks about his new life in Osaka — he has recently relocated to the city. Momus used to do a lot of these talk-only podcasts, often recording them as he was walking around a city (Tokyo, New York, Berlin) describing the things he was experiencing. I really loved these “virtual tours,” and it even inspired me to do a few of my own.

Now in this new one — which he says “may” turn into a series, which I hope so — he mentions me, saying how he used to follow my blog back in the day, and he says how it’s interesting that when you look at pretty much all of the tweeting I do these days — which is admittedly a lot — that there is barely ever any mention of anything Japan-related. Now one thing that should be obvious is that I’ve moved all of my Japan-related art/design/culture content to SNOW Magazine, and the accompanying Twitter account, but there is something to what he says.

Momus states that it’s possible that after a foreigner has been here for long enough — I’ve been here for 10+ years — he starts losing interest in the things around him, and I can’t entirely disagree. I’m certainly no longer intrigued or surprised by the differences between Japan and other cultures. These have become routine for me. But I will admit that over the years my interests have evolved, and I’ve taken a bigger interest in things that lie outside of this country — you could probably count recent projects I’ve launched, like Codex and The Magaziner, as a reflection of this.

There was certainly a long period time where I was so obsessed and in love with all of the things I was seeing and experiencing in Japan that yes, it pretty much made up everything I was absorbing in terms of daily culture. But the past few years have seen me re-connecting with what’s happening in the rest of the world, and it has changed my perspective on things. Now, this is not to say that I don’t genuinely like what I cover on SNOW Magazine — I really do — but it’s also something I produce as a “project” now. As a whole, I’m just not as excited or intrigued by Japanese culture (meaning in art, design, culture, and more) as I used to be. Now whether this is due to me turning jaded or because of a general decline in what is being produced on the cultural landscape, that’s a topic for another post.

Does this mean I lose my Tokyo Boy crown?