October 13, 2012

∴ The Magazine

A new thing appeared in the iOS App Store last week. Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, published his latest creation, The Magazine.

The Magazine begins with the premise that today's tablet- and phone-based periodicals are but hand-recoded versions of their paper forebears. Accordingly, that content feels encumbered with print model constraints. Ads and editorial graphics designed to consume attention distract from each author's work. Navigation varies by publication, and some content is no more than stitched-together PDF's.

Available only on the iOS Newsstand app for iPhone and iPad, and requiring the newly minted iOS 6 at that, The Magazine at long last redefines that publishing model for the digital universe by making content simply accessible and exclusively available for mobile use.

Witness Wired Magazine: the paper version, first published twenty years ago, was a visual festival of color, shape and new-thinking design. Today's electronic version, while carrying the same relevant and thought-provoking content, is ungainly to navigate and devoid of common digital publishing niceties. No copy-paste, no highlighting and no send-article-to. It carries a substantial advertising load, though apparently not enough to bring the tablet-only subscription fee down to that of the paper copy. It is, in short, a less-pleasant read for its complexity, a holdover from high-design print.

The Magazine, in contrast, is a picture of elegant simplicity. Four ten-minute-read articles per issue, published and automatically delivered every two weeks for $2 per month. The first editions' authors are well-known in the geek world, among them Guy English, Jason Snell, Alex Payne and Michael Lopp. Article ownership remains in the authors' hands, allowing their re-use elsewhere after a one-month interval.

The Magazine eschews all but the simplest graphics, hewing to prose-only content in a one-column format. There are two font sizes and two contrasting color schemes, one fit for daylight and one bedtime-friendly dark. Nothing stands between the reader and text.

It is subscription supported at present. In his foreword, Marco holds open the possibility of moving to an ad-based model as needs dictate. Given his use of The Deck for supporting his personal web site I fully expect any ad content in The Magazine to be both minimal and tasteful.

It is a modest beginning; the ways forward from here are many. Longer-format and serial content come to mind. Marco holds open the possibility of eventually publishing the articles to the web. Pondering it, there is an exciting sense of building the future to The Magazine.

I enjoyed the first edition and so will allow my one-week trial subscription to morph into a regular payment, handled through iTunes. Marco's reputation, borne of his excellent Instapaper and the always-fun Build and Analyze podcast was more than enough to bring me to the trough. His early crop of content is enough to keep my here.

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