Macworld, the death of print, and the digital revolution

From 1995 to 2005 I worked in the Prudential Center at Boston’s Back Bay. In the complex was a large Barnes and Noble, and I became a frequent customer of that store. Almost daily, I’d go down to see if the new magazines came out or what books were released that week. I liked to read on my long train ride home, so I bought a ton of print materials each month. That continued after I left the company. Only this time, I bought my magazines at South Station instead. There was even a bookstore there so I could get my new releases.

That changed the day I got my iPad in 2010. From that day forward, I can probably count the number of print books and magazines I’ve bought on both hands; I won’t need my toes.

The death of Macworld

On September 10, 2014, a day after providing stellar coverage for the Apple keynote, most of the Macworld staffers were let go and it was announced the magazine would cease print production. The website would go on, and the digital edition of the magazine would go on, just without the writers, editors, and lab testers who made it the stellar publication it was.

Letting people go the day after they busted their butts proving why they are a great team is a move I can’t describe in polite language. It must have been painful for Jason Snell to sit there knowing he was leaving, and probably that soon the team would be as well. The entire thing reeked of, “Hey, thanks for flying out to do a great job. Say, while you’re here, HR wants to tell you something.” Jason has always struck me a nice guy, so I don’t blame him for his role. Sometimes, you’re just the messenger.

The thing is, shutting down the magazine was foretold. PC World ceased print last year. Windows still is the dominant OS in the world. If a magazine dedicated to PCs couldn’t make a go of it in this economy, what did chance did a relatively niche magazine stand?

What was unexpected was the staff was also let go, pretty much in their entirety (with the notable exception is Chris Breen, who is probably checking to see if he is standing on plastic) without moving some of them to the web. Ex-Mac|Lifer Susie Ochs is moving from TechHive to Macworld. My hope is the quality will continue. Reading between the lines on this blog post, the digital edition will continue in some form.

Why I think Internet-enabled tablets hastened the death of print

It’s been said the internet killed print. Certainly, print was in decline before the iPad, but I think easy-to-read tablets accelerated the inevitable. Prior to the iPad’s release, my magazine purchases were generally writing magazines, tech magazines, and PC Gamer. I was a frequent contributor to PC Gamer for four years, so I’d buy the issues that had my byline in them. Still have them, in fact.

After the iPad, I stopped buying them for a variety of reasons. I wasn’t getting much from the writing magazines, and the tech magazines felt like yesterday’s news when I got them. Using the web and Instapaper, I could cache the day’s news on my iPad for the evening commute.

While I’d buy magazines (including Macworld) via Zinio, my purchases of physical magazines were on an emergency basis. Usually I’d buy one when I went to lunch near a Barnes and Noble and forgot my iPad.

How print publishers didn’t do themselves any favors

Gradually, even my purchases of Zinio and Newsstand magazines dwindled to almost nothing. This was because publishers took the easy route and just made PDFs of their print editions.

This was a horrible idea. Because they were large graphics files, early tablets (and even today’s tablets) struggled to display them. The fonts were hard to read and you had to zoom in and pan the pages to read them. It wasn’t until magazines like The Loop (full disclosure: I’ve written for The Loop) and The Magazine (full disclosure: I’d like to write for them) created easy to read content I enjoyed on my iPad without needing new glasses that I read more magazines on my iPad. Macworld got better with their Newsstand app, but by then I’d read most of the magazine online anyway.

Right now, the only magazine I have an active subscription to is Guitar World, and I get it on the Kindle app. It’s the only version so far that lets me view all of the pages as text-only. I’m contemplating picking up Total Guitar on Newsstand as well, since the app includes the sound samples for the lessons.

At least books made a fairly seamless transition. I read a lot of fiction books and I’ve experienced no drawbacks to buying my e- books on Amazon. Actually, it’s been a net gain since I have all of my books on all of my devices.

Why my buying habits changed

Outside of the fact that reading magazines on my iPad wasn’t completely ideal, when money started getting tight I asked myself if I would just electronically bin the magazine after I was done reading it. If the answer was yes, I stopped reading it. That’s why now most of what I read for magazines are guitar and photography magazines. Their content has some shelf life. Jim and Glenn publish articles with a decent shelf life on The Loop (published by Jim Dalrymple and The Magazine (published by Glenn Fleishman) apps. I’ll often go back and re-read some old articles.

How can print magazines stave off execution

What amazes me is how few magazines get that a tablet isn’t a printed product. I want my tablet magazines to embrace design decisions that play to the iPad’s strengths. If you’re a magazine on music instruction, include audio and video files. Usually these accompany the print version on a disc. Include these as part of the app with a link that can download the file within the app.

If you’re a tech-related magazine, come out more often. We don’t need a full magazine twice a month. Jim releases The Loop every two weeks with a handful of articles. [Aside: I reached out to Jim regarding his publishing schedule, and he should be back to the twice a month schedule soon.] Tech magazines don’t need to run the news every issue, but a lot of the feature articles would be nice to have twice a month. This is probably easier for magazines that completely shut down their print editions.

I’d still pay a subscription to a The Loop-style version of Macworld. I don’t want to get all my tech articles on the web. I love apps, and want sites to embrace them; not just take the lazy way and mimic the print magazines