The digital magazine industry

On O’Reilly Radar today, Mac Slocum wrote a post called “Trapping content on the iPad won’t work, even if it’s pretty”:

Digital content, like water, will always find a path to freedom. You lock it down, someone else will open it up. That’s why the Wired iPad app — and other offerings from publishers accustomed to silos — should get ahead of the curve now. These apps need to offer more embedded links, more web hooks, and more opportunities to share. Designers can still create beautiful layouts. The user experience can still be unique. Advertisers can still be wooed. But the content itself needs to be connected to the web because it’s being accessed through a web device. So why not expedite the inevitable and turn connectivity into an asset from the onset?

I’d actually love to make this a longer piece, but here’s my initial thought: I agree here that the web wants all content to be equal, but the decision to create a closed iPad/iPhone application, as Wired has, seems no different or less valid a business decision than to publish exclusively on paper and staples, and I really doubt that it’s a harbinger of doom for open content. On one hand, the same business risks apply—in the free market of good writing, a for-money Wired had better be much better than the free stuff I’m practially tripping over every second of the day, or else it’s as if those words were never written at all. On the other, a major publisher like Conde Nast finally electing to make available the whole kit of their monthly issue in any digital format is a meaningful first step that I’d expect would evolve quickly as they watch how their readers consume content—both in the magazine and in links from their pages. The hard step for magazine publishers has always been jumping in that cold pool of “here’s my entire magazine, no mailbox required”, and while for the web it might feel awfully conservative, it’s an enormous leap of faith for old guard publishers; I anticipate the next steps forward will seem much easier, and come much faster.

Also, as a geek note, most everything an in-app browser does is rendered by WebKit—just like Mobile Safari. I’ve never felt much of a difference by way of performance, and it hardly presents a dead-end to readers who, if they wanted to, could just browse the web with impunity inside that built-in browser, leaving their digital issue of Wired just whiling away in the background, waiting for people to care.

tangentialism is David Yee!