Do digital magazine readers want a “print like” experience?

12/12/2012 — 3 Comments

Tablet readers want "print like" experience
There’s been a lot of coverage of a research report by the Pew Research Center and The Economist. One of the key findings from the survey of American news consumers was that 60% of readers under the age of 40 prefer a “traditional, print-like” experience when reading news content on tablets.

I get this in relation to news; readers want to access information quickly without the distractions of interactive elements like animation, audio and video. But is the same true for digital magazine readers?

More than newspapers, magazines have to entertain readers as much as inform them and immediate access to information doesn’t always trump design. I’m no designer, but magazine pages in print can be every bit as complex as on the tablet. Print doesn’t move or talk, but a sophisticated page layout can pack a mindbending array of graphic and text elements.

Thinking about magazines, the term “print like” isn’t really helpful. I’m not sure what the right term is – accessible, intuitive, legible?

Having just finished judging the 2012 Digital Magazine Awards, I have first hand experience of  publishers that have overused interactive elements in their iPad publications: Spinning stuff just sometimes gets in the way.

I suppose the mesage for magazine publishers from this element of the Pew/Economist study is that technology has to be used appropriately. If your readers want information quickly, you need to design to that. Simple layouts, clear typography, job done. But if they want an enhanced media experience, video, audio, animation can really add value.

The bottom line in all of this is that we are still in the very early days of digital magazine design. As one of the winning editors at the DMAs put it to me, digital magazine publishers are experimenting in public and they don’t always get it right. But playing it safe and reverting to print formats just won’t cut it. Readers need a reason to buy tablet magazines and giving them print products on a digital substrate isn’t likely to cut it long-term.

3 responses to Do digital magazine readers want a “print like” experience?

  1. Agreed, the terminology isn’t very helpful. ‘print like’ can mean simplified reading without the bells and whistles or does it mean they prefer scrolling around on the tablet since the layout isn’t optimized for the device.

  2. Hi Peter

    James Hallett here, publisher/editor of Go Trail magazine, a purely digital (i.e. no print brother) trail and ultra-trail running publication based in South Africa.

    When we began publishing Go Trail in 2010, we resorted to utilizing digital publishing platforms (ISSUU specifically) and designed our magazine in almost a similar layout to that of a print title, with a few exceptions of course. After our 9th issue (April/May 2012) we decided that as a digital magazine we needed to present the readers with a more clear cut differentiation, ultimately carving a new vision for ourselves as a magazine. We adopted a fully HTML based magazine platform, developed specifically for our needs and modeled off a few other publications that had already ventured down this road. Interestingly, since the launch of this new platform, and with it our 10th issue, in July of this year (with two more since), we have noticed a dramatic difference in reader expectation and reader interaction, with both our brand and our publication.

    Perhaps our evolutionary step was slightly premature, but we most certainly share the sentiment of your last paragraph. The question is now of course…how long is “long term”…we hope not that long!?!?

    Thanks for a great blog, certainly one of our regular “everything-digi-mag” outlets

    Kind regards,
    James

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