UX London: Evolving the Digital Magazine

by May 28, 2014

In their Evolving the Digital Magazine presentation at UX London 2014 Rob Boynes and Ben Sauer shared a case study on redesigning a traditional magazine for digital platforms. Here are my notes from their talk:

  • Magazines are trustworthy and useful to people but their audiences are down 10% year over year and they don't know why.
  • Magazines were dominant in modern culture, they set trends and provided info for a small fee. They were aspiration and instructive. People were united by the magazines they read. When the Web happened, the debate moved online and content became commoditized. Putting stuff online just filled a void, as print remained the primary driver of revenue. Magazines are immersive not transactional.
  • When the iPad arrived, it was page-sized, publishers reused the same workflow, so replicas dominated. But it only attracted existing subscribers and became untenable in terms of development.
  • In the redesign, the team interviewed readers, found how they used the magazine, then broke it down into its constitute components.
  • In their design they wanted a daily viewing habit experience and a lean-back experience. But was it too much like a Web site or effective as a magazine?
  • Once the app launched, the reaction was very bi-polar. New users, industry bloggers, and Apple loved the new design. Even the writers embraced the new model. But the bad news was existing users didn't like it: they felt the feed made it feel like an RSS feed, and lost their back issues.
  • Yet engagement and growth were way up but not from print subscribers. So the goals of increasing the user base worked but revenue is still unclear.
  • Lessons learned: magazines iterate frequently but never fundamentally. People hate change & they need a transition to move to new experiences. Platforms inhibit innovation as much as they enable (Adobe DPS and Apple Newstand are examples). Change the nature of the content: delivery is easier to change the the format.