Ok let’s get something clear: It’s not me asking that question! For goodness sake, some of my best friends publish digital magazine replicas.
“Why do digital magazine replicas suck?” was a recent search query that led the Google algorithm to send someone, somewhere to Flipping Pages. I’m not sure if they found the answer they were looking for on the blog – I hope I’m less about why digital replicas suck and more about why optimized digital magazines work. But just in case Google sends this question my way again, here’s an algorithm-driven, Demand Media style answer to why digital magazine replicas suck.
What is a digital magazine replica?
A digital magazine replica is a magazine published electronically, usually in Flash, that mirrors the print edition of a magazine exactly. It is a simple digital conversion of print prepress files, often originated in PDF format. Publishers generally produce digital replicas as a way of saving on distribution and printing costs without incurring additional layout, production or content creation costs.
Why do digital magazine replicas suck?
Many people find digital magazine replicas very difficult to read, leading some to go so far as to say they suck. The principle reason for this is that publishers insist on mangling digital technology to try to recreate analog products on a computer screen.
The key cause of suckiness in digital magazine replicas has to do with the use of legacy print layouts. Traditional print magazines generally have a portrait aspect, that is they are narrower at the top and bottom than they are at the sides. Computer screens generally have a landscape aspect, that is they are narrower at the sides than they are at the top and bottom. Publishers who try to squeeze portrait layouts into landscape screens risk significant suckiness.
Symptoms of Suckiness
The biggest symptom of suckiness in digital magazines replicas centres on the readers inablity to read the magazine. Typography designed for print on paper, usually A4 size or thereabouts, is squeezed onto a screen layout less than half that size. This results in significant shrinkage of the type and the aforementioned reading problems.
A common “solution” for this is to allow readers to zoom into the digital page. This increases typre size to the point where it is readable, but the reader often loses control of the page, inadvertantly exacerbating the overall suckiness of the digital magazine replica.
General absence of added value
Being simple print page conversions, few replicas take advantage of the multimedia capabilities that today’s digital readers have come to anticipate. They also tend to ignore the potential for interactivity. Readers familiar with other online formats, websites for example, are frustrated by this general absence of added value – audio, video, animation – in digital magazine replicas. This frustration adds to the existing perception of suckiness.
The easiest way to stop digital magazines sucking is to avoid publishing replicas. Publishers that take the time to design pages in a screen friendly format and to add value with video, audio or animation are far more likely to produce a digital magazine that doesn’t suck. Getting ready for new reading devices like the iPad will avoid a possible reoccurence of sucky digital magazines in the near future.
I hope this answers your question?