Fast & Slow content: The two-speed magazine publishing approach

Magazine publishers in today’s world find themselves facing something of a conundrum. Put simply, there are two basic ways in which they can engage a digital readership on mobile devices.

The first is by creating edition-based content, be it something designed specifically for digital or a simple PDF replica of a print-edition – this is a “punctuated” approach, with regular monthly and bi-monthly issues.

The second way is faster and more fluid – publishing content to the web on a continuous basis, content that is by definition constantly mutable and changing.

Illustrative of this is the difference between say, National Geographic print edition and the National Geographic website. Often these two different approaches will be handled by two different teams entirely – although there’s a fair amount of overlap.

Both of these approaches have inherent strengths and weaknesses. Static content, even when in a digital form, allows a magazine to maintain a sense of consistency amongst its readership, breeding familiarity with its structure. Consumers appreciate this approach and will often purchases magazines for particular kinds of content – say an editorial column or a longform feature – which they know come out every week or every month. In addition, editorial controls are usually tighter and held to a higher standard than web-published content. This is a particular challenge web-published content needs to overcome.

On the other hand, the fluid and continuous nature of web-publishing, by contrast, allows for content to be more responsive to rapidly changing current events, something of particular importance to anyone in the news and entertainment media. This sort of “fast” approach is best epitomized by the frenetic nature of social media content, with particular topics or themes trending on a second-by-second basis.

The trade-off of all this is in the sheer volume of what’s produced, when on a daily or even hourly basis, it creates information overload. Consumers often complain of struggling to keep up with this pace.

The question that arises in concluding this brief assessment of the pros and cons of both is simple: “Where do they fit?”, “What do we prioritize?”, and ultimately, “How do we do it?”

We see these types of content as “fast” and “slow” and we see the future as a careful mix of both within a single, easily reachable framework on mobile devices.

What we term “fast” and “slow” content obviously aren’t pitched adversaries but rather offer differing types of utility. A Time op-ed on an event that happened two days before, can be published to the web and consumed by readers instantly, but a template feature-piece has more time to be prepared, is subjected to more editorial control and is an expected selling point from the consumers’ point of view.

So, how exactly are magazine publishers to combine these two different ways of publishing content?

As mobile app development has grown, so too has the flexibility of what can be done on these devices. In the case of publishing apps, static recreations of PDF content were big in the beginning, but app developers, YUDU included, have had to develop increasingly elaborate ways of enhancing this static content, beginning with rich media like video and audio embedding and moving on to very interactive HTML5 content. This has been alongside a host of other back-end development to create subscriber management and DRM systems, which facilitate bespoke monetization models for publishers themselves.

The end result is that the publishing app, as a concept, can now act as a hub for all kinds of content and primarily, both the “fast” and “slow” types of content referenced in this post, bridging the gap between the web-publishing and edition-publishing approaches.

Imagine an app with all your web-content built in (capable of being personalized if users log in), sitting alongside digital replicas of latest editions, a comprehensive archive of back-issues, easily accessible social media feeds, video libraries, libraries of interactive content and more. This future is envisaged because magazine apps are moving away from their status as repositories, while maintaining this feature, and encompassing all that’s good about the other types of content listed.

Up until now, magazine apps haven’t really been seen as the go-to point on mobile devices, rather, they’re seen as a source of utility for those who want to download edition-based content such as existing subscribers – and that’s a good use of the app infrastructure, but it’s not the only use – and turning the “magazine app” into a nexus-point for the brand rather than single editions of that brand is something that’s very exciting.magazine pub

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