The article as art form

The first hints of a new art form: Nature's "The Human Genome at Ten" - a magazine special feature sold separately.

The first hints of a new art form: Nature's "The Human Genome at Ten" - a magazine special feature sold separately.

Remember when people bought albums? Like, a bunch of songs on a CD together, usually by the same artist…. I can see I lost you at “CD”. Nevermind.

Today, we frequently buy music one song at a time, on a computer. Some of us miss the album. Some of us have vinyl collections. Some of us curse ourselves every day for letting our dipshit ex-boyfriends keep our vinyl collections. But for the most part, we purchase, listen to, and ruthlessly criticize our music on our computers.

Magazines are going the same way. The print magazine, despite predictions (admittedly by myself on this very blog,) isn’t dead and isn’t particularly interested in going anywhere. But it will evolve, into a sort of hip luxury item, like vinyl. (Yes I do make this shit up as I go along. But I’m right. You’ll see.) And most of us, within about a year or so, will be reading our magazines on our tablets. And it’s going to be awesome because we’ll be saving trees.

The first hints of a new art form: Nature's "The Human Genome at Ten" - a magazine special feature sold separately.

Infographics were rarely considered important enough to take up a whole spread in print. Is it any surprise that we're seeing their popularity soar in the digital medium?

Now here’s the thing. When the magazine is no longer dependent on the limitations of paper, what happens to its content? When it becomes fully tagged and searchable, what happens to its cohesiveness? What if I find an awesome article in a magazine I have no other interest in, and just want to buy that article? Why shouldn’t I be able to do that?

I think some publishers will begin doing the following: selling articles by themselves. And making them awesome by themselves. When a whole issue is one article, the potential for making a really beautiful, immersive reading experience – the whole reason we love magazines – is huge.

I don’t mean short three-paragraph piece about the latest shoes – that’s what blogs are made for. I mean those long, engrossing, in-depth examples of real journalism. The kind that take a good half-hour to absorb. The kind of thing I still read magazines for.

How would you design differently for a single article? What would you expect from it? What would you reasonably pay for it?

For full disclosure, I work at Zinio writing ads for digital magazines now. As far as I know no one is thinking about this much yet. Just me. And all I do is think about digital magazines now, all the freaking time.

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  1. Posted August 12, 2010 at 05:36 | Permalink

    Many of us are thinking about these things!

    Single article vs curated whole is an ongoing question. Newspapers behind paywalls have obviously opted for the single-article route; those magazines who strip out their print design and place their text on separate webpages do too, even though the money comes in only from advertisers. Apps like Instapaper and Flipboard encourage this kind of reading, creating your own “publication” from single articles you want to read. There’s no technological reason why one of those companies couldn’t team up with, say, MagCloud to create one-off printed compilations of your single articles, taking things full circle.

    On the whole, though, most articles simply don’t offer great value on their own. With certain industry niche and news-breaking exceptions, magazines (in whatever format) are more valuable for their collective value and POV than the sum of their parts. But then I’m probably an old romantic.

  2. Posted August 12, 2010 at 17:31 | Permalink

    Andrew I totally agree. I think anyone offering paid content now has to take it a lot more seriously and only those who do make an article (or even whole magazine) something that really stands out against the sea of blogs are going to make it the next few years. So the article will have to become something more – not necessarily to stand on it’s own, but I think the ability to stand alone will be something editors look for, not unlike how they look for what story they should put on the cover.

  3. Posted August 12, 2010 at 17:48 | Permalink

    And also – I may not have made this clear in the post – the digital magazine is where this opportunity is so huge, because in print, the cost of printig and distributing a single article just isn’t worth it. As digital publication those restrictions dissappear.

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