April 27, 2015 Last Updated 3:23 pm

First look: New Food category digital editions from Rodale and two independent publishers

New, professionally produced print magazine produce hard-to-read, unimaginative digital editions, while digital-only magazine suffers from the absence of a talented art director

Today is an appropriate day to look at a couple new digital magazines launched into the Apple Newsstand as today Apple will announce its earnings, and with them their sales for their iOS devices. TNM has, since its launch in 2010, concentrated on sales of the iPad, but it feels like the end of the line as sales have declined for four straight quarters, and combined with the failure by Apple to maintain its Newsstand, it more and more feels as if they have given up on digital publishing.

OrganicLife-issue-smSo have many magazine publishers, if evidenced by their digital editions.

Rodale, for instance, has just relaunched its Organic Gardening magazine as Organic Life – hoping, of course, to give the effort new life. The announcement of the change was in August with its premiere issue dated May/June and publishing in April. That gave the publisher plenty of time to consider what it wanted to do in print… and digitally.

But Rodale decided that to launch the new Organic Life as a replica edition. Just two years ago that decision would have led to me saying that Rodale is simply out of touch with what digital device owners want in their digital magazines. But times have certainly changed and now many publishers have simply concluded that there are not enough digital readers out there to spend the resources necessary to produce a decent digital edition. It’s hard to blame them, judging by the audit numbers, and the attitude of Apple to digital publishing.

When did these publishers come to the conclusion that the future of digital publishing was not digital editions? I thought they may have reached that conclusion early last year, after seeing that Apple, in 2013, had chosen to abandon its own Newsstand.

But a recent conversation with an executive at one of the major digital publishing platforms may show that many could see the writing on the wall far earlier. This person, intimately involved in digital publishing said they could see things start to go south in 2012, not long after the launch of the Apple Newsstand. Yes, sales were still growing at that point, but not nearly at the level they thought they would. Going from 1 or 2 percent of a magazines circulation to 10 percent may have seemed at the time like a major achievement, but they expected even more, and when it didn’t happen many turned to mobile as the answer to capturing readers digitally.

The problem with that strategy, though, is that it will not involve reimagining their print magazines in digital form, but thinking about what readers will want on the web and on mobile devices. In other words, it involves coming up with new ways to reach readers, while competing with digital-only competitors who are not even in the magazine space.


So, if many of the major publishers are throwing in the towel on digital editions, is that the end of the digital magazine? Hardly. In fact, it could be argued that this is the opening some digital-only publishers have been praying for, and so new digital magazines (and digital editions) continue to be launched.

Two new entries into the Newsstand, released around the time of the premiere of Organic Life are Brix Magazine for iPad and Mondays Journal.

If you know your wine terminology you know what Brix Magazine is about (brix is the level of sugar in wine). The magazine, which is free of charge, is published by Billy Baughman who also has a channel on Roku. That channel, Artisan Wine Channel, says it is produced by the publisher of Brix Magazine – so you see there is a bit of cross-channel marketing here.

It turns out that the new Brix Magazine app replaces an older one that is no longer in the App Store. Because of this, the new app actually houses two issues. The summer 2014 issue was pretty poorly put together, with typography that would make an art director cry. The newer issue, one is happy to report, is cleaner and more consistent. But both issues were built using a PDF to Newsstand approach, rather have a native digital publishing platform.

Monday’s Journal comes from New Zealand and appears in the Apple Newsstand under the Almond developer account (there are two other digital magazines there). Almond describes themselves as “an independent digital creative specialising in app development and digital publishing.”

Unlike Brix, Monday’s Journal was obviously produced for print first, and looks more professionally designed, though the layouts are fairly simple. But the move to digital was made without regard for the smaller page size and so the fonts – which probably look great in print – require pinch-to-zoom on an iPad mini, and a magnifying glass on an iPhone. This is too bad because the print magazine could have easily produced a very good digital edition using a simple platform like TypeEngine or 29th Street Publishing.

The hope back in 2010 was that great designers of print magazines would make the transition to digital and begin producing great digital editions. Some did, and their efforts produced a number of really good digital magazines. Owners of iPads noticed and at least a few of those owners subscribed to the new digital magazines.

But the numbers, apparently, haven’t been been big enough – and print magazine executives, who were never enthusiastic about digital editions to begin with, have been quick to find excuses to believe that cheap-and-easy replica editions are a better way to go. Even losing many of those digital subscribers through transitioning to replicas is consider acceptable when the numbers are easily made up by adding a few thousand verified subscribers, or approving more promotional mailings to former readers offering discounted print subscriptions.

As a result, though, many talented art directors remain firmly entrenched in print, with only the most dedicated digital designers still committed to their digital editions. The result is that many of the new digital magazines are not professional in appearance, and those professionally produced print editions are not being translated well to digital platforms.

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