August 13, 2015 Last Updated 1:55 pm

Digital magazines that can offer their readers engaging, cinematic storytelling can succeed

Guest column: Adam Blades, a publishing student at Oxford Brookes, returns with a second guest column on his experiences and his hopes for digital magazines

In the social hierarchy of my University Publishing Media class, I have been assigned the mantle of ‘tech guy’. And when it’s coming from the mouths of 45 female publishing students out of a total 50, it’s not something I’m going to dispute anytime soon. However, whilst I enjoy the extra attention this brings, it also illustrates the taboo surrounding digital publishing. Whenever the topic of digital magazines came up in my second-year modules, the response would either be alienation or dismissal. I think a lot of this reaction comes from lack of understanding and knowledge around digital editions and the absence of a wild newsstand success story that turned heads.

NewScientist-210In fact, when I talked to 24 students on this topic just over half had never tried a digital magazine, and of those that had, the majority reported a negative user experience. In general, students found that the digital edition didn’t add enough to the print publication. The sometimes confusing touch interfaces, crashes and long download times meant most didn’t return. This kind of feedback doesn’t surprise me. We have always been aware of the sub-par digital newsstand experiences some big magazine brands have chosen to create. However, what does worry me is the universal disregard towards digital magazines as a whole. The fact that the next-generation of tech-savvy publishers aren’t inspired enough to explore this area of digital publishing reflects badly on the industry.

The 5 years since the iPad launched has seen numerous attempts to establish digital magazines. You only need to take a peek at Talking New Media’s Guide to Digital Publishing Platforms to uncover the many companies and services all champing at the bit to prove to you why their solution will end all digital circulation woes. But take a glance at the UK-based Audit Bureau of Circulation’s figures and the picture’s not improved. Digital editions still only make up a small percentage of combined circulation: WIRED (15%), New Scientist (10%), GQ (10%), VOGUE (4%), Harpers Bazaar (2%). And whilst some digital subscriptions are slowly rising, they are nowhere near enough to counteract the decline in print.

Many argue that sectioning off content into inaccessible, scheduled issues is too counterproductive in the fast-moving digital space where web users quickly flit between sources and articles via a Google search. It has prompted Adobe to uncouple content from issues in their new Digital Publishing Solution and Apple to replace Newsstand with a user-curated News app in iOS 9.

However, I refuse to believe there isn’t a market for digital magazines that offer engaging, cinematic storytelling enhanced by rich imagery and video. The strength of the iPad is that it combines the screen real-estate of a computer with the intimacy of a mobile phone. It’s perfect for crafting meaningful, impactful and personal stories that go beyond a stunted web experience punctuated by intrusive ads and related article lists.

The traditional digital replica has ground to a halt, and the danger is that this may be putting off publishing brands from exploring the possibilities of interactive apps. Perhaps even more alarmingly, it’s steering aspiring young publishers back to declining print or headlong into the online BuzzFeed generation currently battling the adblock epidemic. It is one of the reasons why I am hosting a crash course on Digital Magazine Production and Design for my fellow publishers at the end of 2015. Even if it is just to raise awareness about the issues surrounding this tempestuous area of publishing, it will hopefully uncover new opportunities they had never considered before. Perhaps a few will help guide the industry to a healthier future in years to come.

Adam Blades has been interested in digital publishing ever since creating his first interactive iPad magazine at 16, and continues to pursue the subject through his Publishing Media course at Oxford Brookes University and other independent projects. You can contact him at

Note: This second column as actually intended as a revision of the first column that appeared last week, but an error lead to the first draft appearing instead. All for the best, for we get to hear more from Blades on his experiences. We hope to hear even more as the years go by and Blades enters the publishing industry.

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