In the murky history of magazine reinvention, Newsweek, which turned fully digital this year, seems to have pulled off a marvel. After reading two editions, it can be said that the future of current affairs weeklies may lie in following the footsteps of Newsweek digital, down the virtual highway full of neon signs of quirky and incredible apps which have already started running our daily lives.
The Newsweek app can be downloaded free from the App Store on the iPad, apart from android smartphones. For existing subscribers the download is free and appears with a tag “purchased” in the Newsweek library within the app. For non-subscribers, a download costs Rs 270, making it costlier that the print edition of say, Time. The bitter irony is that the last print edition of the Newsweek, which looks like a tombstone for a past that we all enjoyed, is also in the digital library as if to mock at the passing of a technology which survived 500 years since printing was invented.
For the uninitiated, Newsweek, which started publication in 1936 and
became journalism’s global flag bearer, closed down its print edition in which it was incurring a production cost of $43 million annually (Read more here). Various magazines already have apps, but at least in India those are just uploaded print versions which do not exploit the huge potential that a digital app offers. In short, a digital magazine makes a synergy between print, video, audio and other touch and e-commerce possibilities. Going through this edition leaves you utterly bewildered and stunned by the reading, viewing and navigating experience. Imagine opening an edition with Obama on the cover and then with another tap hear him talk from the cover of the magazine. As of now only the Sports Illustrated, especially its annual swimsuit editions, has given a better viewing, listening and reading experience.
The second digital Newsweek cover on deep-sea exploration brilliantly
headlined: “ Have we hit Bottom?” has a picture of a deep-sea craft which transforms into an exploration video as soon as you open the edition. The reader can directly access any article with a pull-down menu that sticks out of the cover page. A tap brings out the menus on top and bottom of the screen, by touching which the reader can navigate back to the cover, the library (where all Newsweek editions are storied) and other sections.
To compete with this digital intrusion into your daily life, print too can adopt some strategies that reverse the digital experience. For instance the Times of India now has pictures that you can scan with any android smartphone using Alive App and then get a video picture or the interview.
Newsweek in its digital foray is trying to push the limits of a news magazine. Alone among all visual and reading experiences, a digital magazine will combine various aspects including e-commerce. For instance in the first digital edition dated 4 January, with Tom Wolfe writing on the unscrupulous financial culture of the US, has a section on the books to look out for this year. One chapter of each book is excerpted and a hyperlink connects you directly to amazon.com from where the book can be ordered. So a reader who opens a digital magazine to read is sucked into a multi-media experience. They will have to keep their credit card handy as reviews of books, phones, fashion directly connects you to the e-commerce portals which have these products. So reading a magazine will leave you a bit poorer! Some of these devices are available on web editions of newspapers and magazines, but it is different and generationally superior on a tablet and the world is literally there at the touch of a finger. Keyboarding is passé and terrible, isn’t it?
So a future journalist, who is an expert on reporting and writing, will also have to be an expert on video, explaining to the reader what he could not do in print. In the Wall Street cover story Wolfe is also interviewed on how Wall Street has changed since he wrote the cult novel Bonfire of the Vanities. So by the end of being through the text,video and buying experience you wonder how much those weekend things, which you wound and tucked under your arm on the way to office, has changed. For news organisations which also run TV channels such digital magazines should be a game-changer. A reporter in the near future has to walk around with a handycam even if he is just working for a print magazine.
The Time and other news magazines too have an iPad app but the Newsweek has put in a lot more effort into making it a complete reading and viewing experience.
Soon Indian current affairs magazines will realise that to reach a lakh of readers, it is much better to try the digital route, since smartphones and tablets get cheaper and more widespread.
The problem however is that advertisers have not yet taken a fancy for digital magazines. But as they cut advertising in print magazines and newspapers, and even New York Times start retrenching senior journalists from this week, the digital edition may be the tablet that the industry needs.
Other sources of revenue for digital news organisations is to channel news through mobile operators with each day's news coming to the subscriber for Re 1. The revenue is shared between the mobile phone operator and the news organisation. As of now news agencies like IANS have cornered this market.
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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2013 16:21:41 IST