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On Digital Magazines

A passing half-cooked notion: this article on ReadWriteWeb talking about digital magazines is less than impressed with the digital-magazine version of PC WORLD because it doesn’t have the interactive bells and whistles of AVANTOURE magazine, cites the embrace of the digital magazine format by +h, and comments that "the savior of digital magazines though will be the increasing market penetration of eBook Readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader device."

So long as they can use Flash. Because when they say digital magazine, they mean Flash magazine.

Which is fine. But if we’re going to talk about interactivity — and RWW says of PC WORLD

We perused the June edition, but didn’t see a lot of interactivity… PC World hasn’t fully escaped the shackles of print. In fact it seems very much like the print magazine simply transplanted into an eBook…. it still has a few tricks to learn about digital magazines by the look of it

then let’s talk about being able to handle the text. I can’t copy/paste out of a Flash magazine. In fact, it’s probably easier for me to slap a page of THE WIRE on to the scanner and email out a scan than it to try and repurpose anything out of AVANTOURE. A Flash magazine is in fact the replication of the paper experience on the screen, with the addition of video and sound — not miles away from the CD-ROM magazines of the 1990s.

A digital magazine is something I can read on a netbook or, especially, a phone. A digital magazine is something that gracefully shifts down to embrace the equipment I’m trying to view it on. If you’re setting the technological bar at an immovable altitude that demands I go to a well-equipped laptop or desktop to view it, then it’s not a digital magazine at all — it’s a digital installation.

And that’s fine, But, you know, don’t bullshit me.

(All of which sounds crankier than it should, but I’m having one of those weeks, ha ha shut up)

Published in brainjuice


  1. Flash magazines are, generally, set up like that precisely so that people CANNOT copy and paste text from them. So terrified are they of people stealing their oh-so-brilliant words and ideas. I’d be more worried that nobody was listening if I were them.

  2. Josh Josh

    Fully in agreement. Flash only sites have always bugged me for just those reasons. I like having the option of linking to or excerpting from anything that catches my fancy. Expediting the flow of information -is- one of the major points of this whole shebang, after all.

  3. My preference: A plain-old PDF file with a large enough font so as not to cause eyestrain. I often convert web pages to PDF for later reading on my netbook.
    The Summer edition of H+ magazine has a PDF download that is much nicer than past issues: the pages are stacked vertically rather than side-by-side. This results in my not having to scroll left-to-right. H+ sacrificed their two-page article openings for my benefit, and for that I am grateful.

  4. rrrrrr…
    go GET ‘EM! most people that use websites are more savvy than the people that own them (notice i didn’t say “the people that make them”). just another reason companies need to make it easy for customers to make suggestions…

  5. Dr. Dirlewanger Dr. Dirlewanger

    It’s not exactly impossible to copy text from a flash magazine, just take some screenshots, chop out everything but the text and run some OCR software.

  6. @Dr. Dirlewanger – a more practical option is “close the window with a fucking hammer and never blight your browser with that site again.” These Flash sites are clearly produced for the benefit of Flash designers and the enthralled toddlers who pay the bills, certainly not for anything to do with business or readers.

  7. monopole monopole

    I’d actually argue the crucial medium for a truly digital magazine is a “sequential” wiki. Conventional tech magazines suffer from the constant influx of newbies and exodus of elite users. If they stop doing introductory articles they loose the newbies, but if they don’t have advanced articles they loose the elite. A sequentially updated wiki addresses the problem by offering a range of basic to advanced articles allowing the magazine to cater to a much broader range of readers.

  8. […] Ellis on digital magazines: A digital magazine is something I can read on a netbook or, especially, a phone. A digital […]

  9. I work for one of those companies that make Flash-based magazines and as a long-time blogger, I’ve always hated the lack of copy and paste. In this post, there’s some speculation that publishers want it that way, but I can tell you from experience most wouldn’t mind if the technology allowed for it.

    If you dig into the Flash and Flex forums, you’ll see it’s coming down the road, sooner rather than later, and for all of the reasons you say. And when it does, readers and publishers will both be better for it.

    You’re also correct that the magazine shouldn’t require a specific device. We’ve got a mobile version, a Kindle version and an accessible version for the visually impaired. If a publisher pays for them, we detect what device you’re on and serve up the proper version for you.

    Marcus Grimm
    Marketing Director
    Nxtbook Media

  10. > A digital magazine is something that gracefully shifts down to embrace the
    > equipment I’m trying to view it on.

    Something like [ markdown ][1], which is a .txt/.html conversion thing, and a converter for whatever you’re viewing it on would be cool for this. Mainly because if you look at it without conversion, in notepad++ or whatever, it’s supposed to still be readable. (This comment is written using it’s text .)

    [1]: “markdown”

  11. MoXmas MoXmas

    FWIW, text being not copy-able in Flash is just a settings issue, in the text box function. All text in a Flash site can be copy and paste-able, with a simple click.

    The reason it is mostly kept turned off has more to do with static designs, where the designers wants things locked into a grid that is not fluid in the HTML.

  12. Flash websites are, in general, designed by lazy dumbfucks who lack the comprehension to see that half the crap they’re doing in Flash can be done perfectly well -without using Flash-. Even then, you can use Flash sparingly, in such a way as to neither a) interrupt the reading experience and b) be, oh I dunno, accessible to the visually impaired (i.e. 10% of your audience).

    Flash is almost wholly unnecessary for anything of real value on the web, -especially- anything text-based.

  13. Having been a web designer for the last ten years I absolutely agree with the perspective on Flash. Even if you can adjust settings to make Flash text accessible, why would you? To me, Flash is an engine for motion content creation, not for content management. I use Flash to make banner ads and cool pieces of motion design CONTENT. Other than making film websites in Flash (because film people insist on it mostly) I’d never make a website in Flash unless I hated the people who were going to use that website.

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