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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Does digital make physical information obsolete?

I was always a hoarder. Tidying my flat yesterday offered a reminder of this – old mobile phones; broken sunglasses; shoeboxes of sampler/demo CDs. And magazines. Lots and lots of magazines.

However, that was me. I’m not sure if it still is me.

There were several reasons I kept and stored things – laziness, the chance they could come in useful or the chance that they might appreciate in value.

So at my parent’s home, I still have boxes of Beano, Match, Amiga Power, FHM and so on. And in my flat I have piles of the Economist, Observer Sport/Music Monthly and the odd glossy magazine.

But I might be moving soon. And do I really need to transport them with me?

Their mass production and less than mint condition means they aren’t collectible. The notional value of storage space probably outweighs their resale value. And, unlike when I first started reading magazines, I have the internet.

Why do I need to re-read something when there is more new content available than ever before. Why do I need to go dig out an old piece of paper when I can type in a search term? Why worry about space when there is near limitless bandwidth?

There is still some sentimental value to owning something tangible (e.g. I won’t be throwing away my copy of Filament) and some things can still be considered collectible (e.g. I have all the issues of 52) but there is less need to keep everything else on the off chance of usefulness.

There are of course downsides to this. Hard-drives aren’t indestructible (and I am particularly poor at backing things up) and permalinks are only permanent within the host’s benevolence and continued existence. I may have access to the Economist’s online archive now, but the moment my subscription lapses that privilege vanishes.

But the dusty, ripped, faded copies of my magazines shows that the physical isn’t permanent either. And while the chances of a burglary or house fire are lower than that of a computer/internet malfunction, that may soon change.

So, like the workplace where the only physical items it seems we need to archive are those involving paper self-completion surveys or signed documents (and how long before digital signatures become the norm?), my private archives may soon be going online.

One question is now what to do with everything. Recycling bin; charity shop; or ebay?

And what else can I switch to non-physical?


Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gord99/

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Filament magazine – for the female gaze

Filament Magazine – “the thinking woman’s crumpet” – has launched its debut issue. A 72 page quarterly, it contains erotica aimed at the female gaze. Some might consider it a brave time to launch a new print magazine given the current economics; can it succeed?

(Disclosure: The editor – Suraya Singh – and I are former flatmates and I am part of a small feature (fully clothed, I might add) in the first issue)

The aim behind the magazine is to right a few perceived imbalances in the way men and women are represented in the media. Both male and female orientated magazines focus on the female appearance – women are told how to improve their looks; men are invited to admire them. In addition to displaying images of men in various scenarios and states of undress, Filament also contains intelligent and well-thought out articles that seek to inform and inspire.

Filament has done well with media coverage in the build up to its launch. Links and images to the press can be found on the Filament LiveJournal page, but to give a few examples:

  • The Independent has a nice article on it
  • It was featured on Radio 1’s Newsbeat
  • Small snippets in both the Evening Standard and London Paper
  • A negative article in the Daily Mail (163 comments and counting) – which can only help.

It was also featured on The Wright Stuff, where one contributor said Suraya “should be shot” for her research. Apparently (I haven’t seen the show), voxpops of women asked about the magazine were largely negative.

This is highly disingenuous. The market for female-orientated erotica is a niche one, and the aesthetic of the magazine (such as the gothic-esque typeface and a cover picture with religious undertones) only reinforces that the title won’t be troubling OK! for sales anytime soon. The average woman on the street is not the target market.

But what of the research? Outside of plenty of desk research, one of the main avenues of primary research to gather public opinion was through this LiveJournal community. This is a self-selecting group of people within a website declining in popularity, but does this matter? Filament’s primary aim should be identifying those that could be interested in such a title, and then understanding their desires and dislikes in detail. The community, to a degree, does this. Only when these have been catered for, the target audience can be expanded with more diverse content and communications.

Can Filament succeed? It will undoubtedly be tough. The magazine is available for £7 through subscription only, and so it will never be able to attract the casual reader. A lot of work needs to go into raising the profile among the target market and then convincing them to not only purchase the magazine but also to then promote it among their peers. As nice as mainstream media coverage is (in some ways it “legitimises” the title as a serious venture), it is the specialist blogs, fanzines and titles where the bulk of the effort should be concentrated, and where success or failure will ultimately be determined. Though as Alan Sugar might say, you only need to ensure your costs are lower than your revenue in order to succeed.

Filament has made a strong start, and I hope it does succeed. One potential criticism of the title could be that – with articles on topics such as feminism and pornography – it takes itself too seriously. But I can attest from the launch party – with burlesque, chinese pole, life-drawing and a sense of fun – that this certainly isn’t the case


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Mygazines and online magazine sharing

Everything is Miscellaneous points to Mygazines, a new website where people can upload and share their magazines.

My previous post was on piracy; would this venture come under the banner? Perhaps, though I’m not sure whether content owners would be as keen to pursue the owners in court (not yet, anyway)

  • Unlike music or films, magazines have a built in obsolescence – whether weekly, monthly or longer
  • It is not just the content being lifted, but the advertising as well
  • The popularity and mass appeal is unproven

A nice feature of Mygazines is the ability to tag individual articles as well as magazines. This means people can search for specific content – whether it is jokes, recipes or technology essays – without having to guess which magazines to trawl through.

But the site is almost a no-win situation as if it proves popular, magazine owners may go after it. I’m not convinced it will get to this stage as

  • I see the site as informing users of new magazines and driving them to those destinations – on or offline. In the first instance, I would find a useful article through Mygazines. In the second instance I would go straight to the website of the magazine I had previously read. This would make Mygazines transitory.
  • Assuming the content is online, why would users want to scan through pdfs when there are fully functional web articles out there
  • And as David points out; the site is slick but the process of uploading magazines certainly isn’t

I’ll be keeping an eye on the types of magazines uploaded and the frequency of uploads as an indication of whether the venture is taking off.


Maghound adopts the Netflix model for magazines


Time Inc have announced that they will launch Maghound in September. This will offer a Netflix style subscription model, where for a flat fee users can pick and choose the magazines they want that month.

I think this is brilliant.

Netflix has been a fantastic success. However, there is one possible iceberg on the horizon – the adoption of digital downloads. But the beauty of Maghound is that this shouldn’t affect them (aside from possible downward effects the Internet has on magazine consumption as a whole). The USP of a magazine is now its physicality – the ability to pick it up, carry it about, tear it, crease it and generally immerse oneself in it in a way that is difficult to do with the quick-fix Internet.

As with some many recent innovations, this move takes the power away from the producer and assigns it to the consumer. No longer will unwanted subscriptions fill up the letterbox and empty out the bank account. Now a wider range of titles can be sampled, and advertisers can be assured that people are opting in to the title. And these people are likely to be those harder to reach people that dip into magazines occasionally rather than regularly.

Interestingly, the auditing bodies will be viewing these as single-sale copies. And while Time Inc say that they won’t be divulging user information to 3rd parties, there is of course the possibility to collect and use the information for targeted advertising within the magazines.

Three things need to be implemented competently for the scheme to succeed

  • The pricing model needs to be set at an attractive level – to me, it seems to be
  • Site design and usability needs to be a priority
  • It needs to be marketed as a complement, not a replacement, for traditional subscriptions

And if it really takes off, we could see a Netflix style community emerge


Computer & Video Games is the latest zombie brand to reawaken

It has been announced that the Computer & Video Games brand is going to be relaunched, four years after it was closed down. Yet another case of a Zombie brand. But where Atari failed and where I expect Commodore to fail, I can see this revival working.

  • The brand has the USP of being the original video games magazine
  • While the magazine was put to rest, the website continued successfully
  • Limiting itself to specials can keep the nostalgia running for a longer period
  • Future Publishing seem to know what they are doing
  • And let’s face it, serious video gamers can be a geeky bunch and this is the sort of thing they will appreciate

However, I do retain one note of caution. I’m surprised that the publishers have chosen to go with the more modern/mainstream Grand Theft Auto with the launch issue. This obviously has the benefit of tying in with the forthcoming GTA IV, but the core audience will not necessarily be aware of the history of the publication. Personally, I would have gone with a Sim City or Doom – a title which reaches back to CVG’s heyday. The market may be smaller, but it would be more fanatical and there would be more appreciation for a high-quality retrospective. By going down this route, it appears that the nostalgic appeal of the print brand is secondary to the ongoing website cross-promotion. I’m sure Future have done their research, and they must have concluded that this was the more profitable direction.

Obviously, success or failure will not result purely from the masthead – there needs to be a decent magazine behind it. But Vanity Fair has shown that magazines with a strong heritage can be successful revived, and I don’t see why Computer & Video Games can’t follow a similar path.