Why The End Of Professional Magazines May Be In Sight

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We live in the age of the amateur. Anyone can sing. Anyone can write. Anyone can take a picture. Anyone can do anything that’s creative, because we have the means. We no longer need professional experts, film critics, book reviewers, art, music or drama teachers because hey – we can do whatever we want. And it’s about to get a how lot easier to hear from the impassioned amateur.

Flipboard, the site that allows you to build a personal platform for all the things you follow, just announced that its update would contain a new feature. Interestingly, nobody paid this press release much attention on the day, possibly because the accompanying video was staggeringly boring. But behind it was a logical idea that, if it catches on, could transform our reading habits. Flipboard 2.0 allows you to create complete magazines of your own easily and quickly.

As the website PaidContent puts it, ‘it pivots from purely curation-based interaction to one that offers users full-blown creation abilities. We have a glimpse of a possible future and it’s both beautiful and terrifying.’ Now what that actually means is that consumers could start subscribing to read other consumer-curated magazines, or lock down content that can only be opened like mag apps are now. It would mean, quite simply, the end of the professional periodical.

So why aren’t publishers donning their brown trousers?

Well, Flipboard is big (50m) but largely inactive (people download it and never use it). And if it makes a wrong move right now, it will kill any existing goodwill and create some big-ass enemies. Plus, Flipboard is an aggregator, which means they’ll never have the source revenue of traditional media.  And yet it could take off. Professional online subscription is struggling against print. Although I mostly subscribe to online magazines instead of buying print ones now, many are tiresomely glitch-filled – as you’ll know if you’ve tried ‘The Times’ or ‘Sight & Sound’.

And while they struggle to catch up, someone in their bedroom just made a cooler, sexier magazine in 20 minutes. And it’s not full of advertising.

But there’s a bigger obstacle in Flipboard’s wake. The competition for leisure time has simply outgrown itself. We subscribe to 200 channels and watch five. If we download music we don’t listen to the radio. If we read a book we don’t play a videogame. If we watch a sport we miss a movie.

That’s where the tablet comes in. You fill the dead time, the moving time, with passive  leisure activities – and that fits a magazine perfectly. US magazines draft in a real expert when they want a piece on a specific subject – and those experts can win a Pulitzer for fine writing.

I suspect that it won’t be Flipboard who benefits, but the first dedicated mag-building app who follows in its wake. And then, for the publishers, it’s brown trousers time.

8 comments on “Why The End Of Professional Magazines May Be In Sight”

  1. David Read says:

    It’s strange really, I look back to when a magazine was the only method of getting news, reviews, updates etc. about upcoming films / music/ games / stories, and what I miss is not so much the reviews of what I want to hear about (as I get that now via some sites I visit regularly), it was the way by week two, you would trawl through the magazine looking for some part you hadn’t read before. Those bits were usually the parts you are not so interested in, but it did mean you ended up reading and learning about them anyway, as there wasn’t a new edition for another few day and you wanted something to read on the bus.

    I realised a few years ago that far from the internet widening my areas of interest, it just made my existing areas more deep, so I consciously spread my net wider so to speak , follow half interesting links to find out new things, otherwise with the choose your own topics approach, you can get very enclosed in your own comfy area.\

    I realise this sounds suspiciously like ‘it was better in my day’, as that is not so. The fact I can keep up to date with your thoughts and news, interact with you and other fans of your work is great, one of my daily tasks is to check your blog, but when you gain something, you invariably lose something else.

  2. Simon Sperring says:

    The saving grace of all this ‘digital creativity’ is that in a hundred years from now it will all be indecipherable (hopefully).

  3. pheeny says:

    I agree David – Google Amazon et al increasingly acts as a funnel along the lines of “If you like that you will like this”

    There are massive benefits but there are drawbacks too, most notably the fact that although it appears you are being given a world of choices you are in reality being herded in one direction only

  4. snowy says:

    There is/was a similar application called ‘Scoop-It’ or some such, but they are really not much more than an aggregator in fancy pants.

    Adverts will appear with all the inevitablity of what the human body does several hours after a big meal. And I expect even now someone is beavering away to produce such a ‘plugin’.

    Though there is one very big problem in the ‘roll your own’ magazine model, all the content is ‘stolen’, or reproduced without permission, if you prefer. Now if people give their stuff away it’s fine, but when people nick copyright content it can get a bit sticky.

    If anyone is bothered by Google behaving like an over zealous but rather dim search assistant, click on the cog icon, top right of the search page, pick ‘Web History’ and in there will be the option to turn off the ‘search customisation based on search history’ er…. thing. Or just use another search thing like Scroogle, or DuckDuckGo.

    Amazon is a bit of a swine, and a bit naughty, there have been mutterings about them using cookies to push higher prices to customers that spend lots of money. Rather that fiddle about with cookie settings, it is easier to go into private browsing mode and then go to Amazon. It will not remember your password, [naturally], and so you will need to type that in manually.

    [On a lighter note, there is still an astonishing number of people who have not clocked onto how things work.
    For example pop this stock number into an UK Amazon search:

    B0012LOQUQ

    And then have a peek at the ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought’ section. And marvel how dumb people can be.]

  5. John Howard says:

    Thanks snowy. Love the “herb grinder” & “king roaches”. I wonder if customs and excise are aware.

    Back to the point of the blog. It’s a shame that anyone can do it because, from my point of view, to be good you need to have talent. Not many people have got that but many, many, many more have a computer and access to the web.

  6. Mike Cane says:

    Amateurs always did things. Fanzines, for one. Did any of you know that before you ever knew his name that film critic Leonard Maltin published a fanzine?

    >>>Maltin began his writing career at age fifteen, writing for Classic Images and editing and publishing his own fanzine, Film Fan Monthly, dedicated to films from the golden age of Hollywood.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Maltin

    Given the way the MSM has disserviced all of us for just the past decade (Iraq war), god bless the amateur, I say.

  7. David Read says:

    I can’t agree it’s a shame anyone can do it, talent will always shine, at least now everyone has more of a chance to get out there. Yes, there is a wealth of rubbish out there, but as fanzines have just become blogs… some are good some are bad, which was always the case.

  8. glasgow1975 says:

    ha that’s amazing snowy 🙂

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