The future of magazine publishing is in many ways also the future of reading itself. The Cloud is transforming how people consume content. Millennials and the post-Millenial generation already consume all their content very differently than their Generation X and Babyboomer parents and grandparents. Digital content is everything at this stage in the game, and it’s Millenials who are shaping content consumption trends, not their predecessors.
In the short-term future of digital magazine publishing, we already can see some of the concerns on the horizon. Consumers and magazine subscribers are really the same category in most respects. They want greater fluidity of personalization that comes with Cloud-delivered and personalized content, such as the ability to highlight text and make notes, share with friends and associates, as well as bookmarking that keeps their place in between reading sessions.
Toward these ends, let’s look at how digital content is being shaped by still-emergent mediums where the technology is already there, but the adoption is has lagged due to the sheer oddity and novelty of some of these emerging technologies.
1. Reader experience is king
I don’t know about you, but I remember reading physical magazines. It wasn’t just about the text content or even the pictures. I was bodily engaged in a way that I couldn’t multi-task around. When you read a magazine, you were generally reading the magazine, looking at pictures, skimming – in short, you were fully engaged in consuming it.
Many magazines may be completely focused on their content because, as we all have been hearing (perhaps too much), “Content is king!”. Well, this article is about to contradict that maxim. Content isn’t actually king, it’s more like Court Jester to the king. Engagement is king (or queen, for the ladies), and that means the experience had by the consumer.
While it may sound like saying that content doesn’t matter, rest assured, that’s not the point here at all. But no matter how good your content is, if you’re overlooking the ways that your audience is consuming other content out there, then you’re readership engagement will suffer and you will lose prospective and existing subscribers.
If you really want to understand your audience, spend some time reading your leading competitors. How are they using white space? What about images? Is there video content that accompanies some articles? What is it from an engagement perspective that separates them from your own mag? Duplicate aspects that are relevant for your magazine (which is likely to be all of them if you’ve selected a relevant niche magazine competitor).
2. Wearable magazine content?
When Google Glass first came out, it was much like with Bluetooth earbuds. Some people hated this new aberration, seeing it as a nail in the coffin of social interaction and personal privacy. Later, however, it became clear that busy people simply need hands-free phone interaction. The productivity boosts from personal assistant interaction also proved to be a necessity for many, and that number is growing.
It’s only a matter of time before the current generation entering college will demand these tools. And as digital content continues to become more plentiful, wearable devices have already begun to extend content to the reader via read-to-me functionality. Magazines are already audio-magazines, it’s just that the device is usually called upon to decide how the reading is conducted, rather than the publisher. This is all backward! And it’s up to publishers to begin making their audio versions of magazine issues if they want to figure out how to engage readers too busy to sit still.
Whether streaming from their smartwatches, their car computer consoles, via an earbud, or via something like the more visual overlay options of the wearable glasses model, content needs to be versatile and be open to both smartphone-based extension (all of the examples thus far fit into that category), or via direct radio tower and/or satellite distribution.
Though it’s really a separate technology in its own respect, VR (virtual reality) headsets could count as another wearable, which we’ll touch on again in this post a little further down.
3. Smart multipurpose bookmarking
For digital content, it has become an expectation for the device and the publisher to facilitate native bookmarking, saving your place. Some examples include Audible’s service which saves your place regardless of the device. The same applies to digital streaming content services like Netflix and Hulu which make sure your place is saved so that the consumer’s experience is optimum and interest is not only maintained but consistently satisfied, creating great levels of satisfaction and brand loyalty.
But these innovations require technical work on the part of publishers. While third-party solutions are great whenever available, in many cases it may not be possible to plug an existing solution into your content platform. This example highlights the reality of needing a developer for virtually any content distributed via the Web. Sooner or later, you’re going to need that kind of in-the-moment support to resolve any number of consumption user experience issues.
3. Multi-version articles / content
Aside from the text vs. audio consumption options are other kinds of equally valid consumption options. An example of this can be visualized best in the little-considered role of article summaries. Often, audiobook and audio magazine content has no summary other than the main audio-text. But this is not ideal in a world where people want to be able to “shop” for the next book to read – even from their audio shelves – or who want to consume content on a long drive or while waiting in a long line at Disney World, or perhaps the post office.
So while the humble article summary may not normally be considered a version of a magazine’s content, it really should be. Songs have samples, but reading material requires a summary to get the full picture of what the content is actually about, as well as a sample to get a feel for the narration and reading style of the reader and the stylistic aspects of the text, narrator, dialogue, and background effects or transition music.
But summaries aren’t the only example of an alternate version of the same magazine content. What about living room socializing over a glass of wine? There are times when people gather and then want to share an experience to fuel the conversation. But how much better would a book/reading or topic-related club be if everyone could share the experience in realtime together, pausing at crucial stops, and then discuss the article in between sections?
Do you offer a Kindle version of your magazine? Why not offer a version of the magazine that includes not only a voiced reading but also accompanying scenes to help the viewer consume the content? Stills can be great for this, but moving stock footage or original muted footage can also work great. Family reunions, church/synagogue/temple events, language classes: the list of potential uses for group audio readings goes on and on, and you can provide them in your theme-related magazine format.
Now imagine this scene: an online wine-themed Meetup group host calls out to Alexa, “Alexa, play that new Pinot Noir review”. Alexa asks “Okay. Playing the new Pinot Noir review last read. Where should I start?” And the host says “From the beginning.” The TV fades on, the lighting dims four degrees and cues the group that the reading is about to begin. They learn about a special vintage from the host’s newly-discovered vineyard while on vacation on that Napa Valley trip last month. And because the wine-themed magazine publisher has envisioned just this sort of real-life scenario, it happens without a hitch and twelve new subscribers are gained by the shared experience that very night (as well as twelve new bottles of that Napa Pinot Noir that Shelley won’t stop raving about – all ordered right from the digital magazine found on their phones). Maybe you have groups who buy like this? Maybe not, but many people do.
Oh, and remember the VR example for wearables? Well, that is actually an entire format to itself. Can you imagine a VR version of your content? There are some out there who can. VR is being used in training simulations, video gaming, and it will soon become mainstream to zone out on your VR for a more relaxing movie or TV experience for the exceptionally lazy (who isn’t?). It may not be time to start investing in a VR format of your magazine now, it isn’t that far down the road when top mags will be – probably just after TV shows come out with their own VR-accessible pilot episodes.
5. Structured data
This item may not even seem like an aspect of user experience, but that would be to mistake the nature of how readers come into contact with your magazine in most cases today. They find you on search, more often than not, and via search results.
Micro-formats like hCards allow search engine users who are currently in research mode to find your magazine while the intent is still there. So, if your article has had enough time and love poured in to have its own hCard result envisioned, planned out, and put into place, crafted, and dwelled on, your article is going to fare better in terms of SERPs (search engine results pages) engagement on the page. And as a result, your result is likely to be the one that gets most of the clicks of people looking for what your article is about.
It’s also worth inserting here a word about blockchain technology. It’s not fully operative for content yet, but it will be soon enough. Not only is blockchain great for protecting privacy, but it’s a naturally peer-oriented technology perfect for peer-reviewing and collecting those peer review data bits from across the public/global Internet (you know, those apps that cross all national boundaries and national Internets). Blockchain tech will be powering reviews as a ranking signal in search results soon enough, and that will have an impact on hCards and other structured data microformats, such as reviews, but also product rankings like on Google products.
6. Predictive analytics
Now we’re totally out of the user experience category right? Wrong. Okay, you may have gotten the connection, so I’ll be fair. But it probably didn’t immediately come to mind.
The truth is that this is the most important, but least easy to envision component of user engagement: testing and feedback metrics. Whatever is performing well topic-wise, keyword-wise, intent-wise, and format-wise should be considered revealing information your magazine can grow on. But analytics is not really enough. There are some great tools out there making use of predictive analytics, like SEMrush. It can suggest how to optimize the page, sure, but it can also recommend topics based on a knowledge of your magazine content thus far. But predictive analytics can do more than that.
What about predicting the best type of follow-up content to present the reader of an article? Or what types of media assets to include in an article on white water rafting? If that was your magazine’s theme, would this sort of competitive intelligence be useful to you? If not, you may need to wake up and smell the coffee. Your top competitors are most likely already using these predictive analytical tools.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Be sure to scour our archives for other great articles on UX, engagement, and analytics to grow your digital magazine.