Digital publishing lightens up

There is an intuitive usability implicit to the physicality of our printed books and magazines.

A reader is given two possible directions — which one depends on language and culture. And from there, a mostly linear, usually obvious interface.

Digital publishing? Not so much. In fact tablet and smartphone books and magazines usually need tutorials explaining how to use them.

When Homer Simpson was asked to design his ideal car, he made The Homer. Given free reign, Homer’s process was additive. He added three horns and a special sound-proof bubble for the children. He layered more atop everything cars had been. More horns, more cup holders, more whatever.

In product design, the simplest thought exercise is to make additions. It’s the easiest way to make an Old Thing feel like a New Thing. The more difficult exercise is to reconsider the product in the context of now. A now which may be very different from the then in which the product was originally conceived.

An insightful entry by Craig Mod looks at how simple tools can retool digital publishing by steering clear of old models and standards and trying something altogether new. He calls it Subcompact Publishing.

Yes, the manifesto is worth reading and applying. Yes, it aims to make digital publishing effortless. Yes, it’s open.

Craig is very excited by a digital publishing venture called (if you can believe it) “The Magazine.” The website is minimal and optimized for two actions - reading and converting you to download “The Magazine” app to your iPhone or iPad.

The app is very streamlined. By keeping issue size small, there’s no need to zoom out or show a macro view of the length of each article. With only four or five articles per issue, you intuitively sense the edges. Navigation need be no more than a simple list.

There’s no instructions page or fancy video. The app mimics the intuitive usability of a printed publication. The integration with Apple’s Newsstand provides background downloading of content and paid subscription conversions. (Newsstand is the only place in Apple’s iOS that allows third party applications to download content in the background. What this means is that new articles are automatically available when published in “The Magazine’s” backend. Which means as a reader you don’t have to preemptively load content before getting on an airplane or subway. If there’s new content, it will be waiting and cached for your offline reading pleasure. Ahhh, magic.)

The clarity of “The Magazine” is exciting. It’s doubly exciting because it’s precisely the sort of app which incumbent publishers balk at. This is to be expected.

Generally, disruptive technologies underperform established products in mainstream markets. But they have other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value. Products based on disruptive technologies are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use.

We are the new customers. The new readers, the new writers, the new publishers. “The Magazine” is indeed cheaper, simpler, smaller, and more convenient than most other publishing apps.

It shows how the publishing ecosystem is now primed for complete disruption.

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