Editor's Note: Something Old & Something New
Every so often I run across an article proposing that the word "magazine" is unfit for the Digital Age -- an outdated term from the Analogue Era. Mathew Ingram of Gigaom went so far as to say the application of the term "digital magazine" to First Look Media founder Pierre Omidyar's new journalism startup is...dumb.
We often see this derision for the magazine form and term come from technology circles. To me this line of thinking suggests that to move forward publishers need to tear everything down, abandon the past, and start from scratch to survive in the Digital Age. Yet innovation rarely if ever comes from some sort of immaculate conception. Rather, innovation typically takes an established form and reinvents it, infusing time-tested functions and objectives with new ideas, empowered by technology not destroyed.
The word "email" is a perfect example. I would venture to guess that in the dawn of electronic mail there were some calling for a categorically different word for this new invention. Yet all we ended up doing was slapping an "e" on the front of "mail" and calling it a day. That's because email is fundamentally the same thing as traditional mail. Its functional essence is the communication of the written word over time and space. Whether it's pharaonic decrees from 255 B.C. Egypt or a Gmail message from 2014, it's still mail. Mail gets the job done so we stuck with it.
The magazine -- the word and the thing -- is still getting the job done. And if there is any one lesson to be drawn from the stories of the many Innovators featured in this issue, it's that reinvention, and not iconoclasm alone, is what matters. More than ever, publishers must be willing to experiment with many different models over the long-term and see what sticks, while maintaining focus on those activities that actually bring home the bacon in the short-term. Focus cuts through the noise.
In "The Innovators" special feature, we hear from Ken Olling, the co-founder of Katachi, an interactive iPad magazine based in Norway. Where many techies argue that digital magazines should be more web-like, Olling emulates the way print content is optimized for the medium. He thinks content made specifically for tablet is more valuable to users and hence more likely to draw paying customers in the long run: "We went back to the traditions of print and we said, 'This is a fantastic way of doing it. It's been very effective and readers like it.' We wanted to take that approach and apply it to interactive, apply it to digital."
Similarly, teen magazine Rookie takes a cue from the old to create anew, defining itself as an online magazine because it publishes content with monthly themes. Meredith Agrimedia group publisher Scott Mortimer shares that while his group is keen to the technology needed to reach "connected farmers," they continue to be innovative with print, producing thousands of targeted versions of each issue of Successful Farmer. And we also hear how Reader's Digest continues to reinvent itself
for the splintering digital world.
Katachi's Ken Olling graces our cover this issue not because he runs a magazine with the richest pedigree or largest subscriber base but because he typifies reinvention and recognizes the need to cut through the noise-as publishers have always done-with clear, well-devised and designed content, using tools old and new. In essence: to communicate.
As always, I invite you to share your story or rebut our views.
Denis Wilson, Editor-in-Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org | @denis_philly
Denis Wilson was previously content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzed and reported on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aimed to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.