Just like music and video, the world of publishing has been changing at a rapid rate since the growth of the internet. More and more people now get their daily reading material from portable devices accessing websites and apps, and it seems likely that the newsagent may soon join the music store and bookshop on the high street’s endangered species list.
By now we are all familiar with surfing websites to get the latest news on the car industry, whereas print magazines simply cannot match the pace at which news can be delivered. There are also plenty of sites (like The Car Expert!) which deliver blog and opinion content, with varying levels of quality and quantity. As a result, traditional print magazines now tend to focus on feature articles and higher-quality journalism. But the writing does appear to be on the wall (or the web…).
So how do the growing number of motoring magazine apps compare to the traditional paper versions which have provided us with news and opinion for decades? Are we looking at real progress, or are publishers simply looking to save money on print and distribution costs by pushing us all towards a digital future? Will the relentless drive to be first with news mean the end of considered, quality journalism if print magazines do not survive?
The people at EVO magazine recently asked The Car Expert to review their new-and-improved app, so it seemed a good idea to compare the experience of reading the magazine on an iPad with the ‘real’ version from the newsagent. As EVO magazine is a title which concentrates on feature content aimed at car enthusiasts rather than aiming to be first with every scrap of ‘news’ across the industry, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to see whether a quality magazine can adapt to the digital era.
Obviously, one of the big advantages of a digital product is the ability to have content which is simply not possible in a paper magazine, like videos or interactive pieces. This is the most exciting frontier of digital publishing, where content goes beyond traditional word-and-pictures publishing to incorporate new ideas and new ways of engaging with readers.
The other big advantage of digital content is the ability to access it from anywhere on the planet as soon as it is published, rather than relying on the postman or making a trip to the newsagent. For readers of overseas publications, this can not only mean accessing the content weeks earlier than a magazine will usually ship, but it is also much cheaper than paying for international postage.
Some publishers allow you to buy individual issues in digital form. At this time, EVO magazine only offers a digital subscription model, where new articles are available to read every few days. You can choose from one month, six months or twelve months, with the 12-month option offering the best value if you are a regular reader.
It’s not a straight digital version of the magazine, but rather a dedicated app which channels the core content of EVO magazine into a dedicated app format. You don’t get all of the articles from the magazine, but you do get the major stories. The digital subscription is cheaper than the full magazine, so it becomes a question of whether you want just the main articles or absolutely every word that EVO writes each month.
In terms of the freshness of the content, some of the articles (such as news and opinion columns) are often available on the app before they are published in the magazine, while other articles (feature stories) are only released on the app after the magazine is published. The majority of the material is taken directly from the magazine, albeit re-formatted to suit a digital format, so the quality of the writing and photography remains superb.
One significant drawback of the digital version is that the content only appears to be available while you maintain your subscription. Once it expires or you cancel it, you can no longer access most of the content – even though you have already downloaded it. This is likely to be a serious issue for many potential users, as it is a fundamentally different concept from buying and forever owning a magazine with all its content. Other industries have already faced this issue and dealt with it in different ways, so it may take some adjustment from both publishers and consumers to reach a happy balance.
So after a month of using the new EVO magazine app, what are the pros and cons compared to reading EVO magazine in paper form?
- You can read the latest articles anywhere in the world, without relying on the postman or having to visit the newsagent
- A year’s worth of content fits right in the palm of your hand, rather than a boxful of paper magazines cluttering up every spare bit of space in your apartment or shed. Want to go back and read an article from six months ago? It’s much easier than searching through numerous magazines to find what you’re looking for
- It’s better for the environment. Many millions of magazines around the world are pulped every year, either because they are unsold or are discarded once the reader has finished with them.
- Although it’s still early days for digital magazines, there is already much more interactive and exclusive content that simply doesn’t work in a paper magazine, like video and audio content. This aspect of the business will grow exponentially in years to come.
- No advertisements (at this stage; who knows what will come later. Plenty of other apps include ads, so presumably EVO magazine will start including them eventually)
- The subscription model used by EVO magazine appears to only be valid while you are subscribing. If you fail to renew your subscription, the material is no longer available. This aspect of the digital model is likely to cause potential users the most grief, as you are not buying an article in the same way that you are when you buy a magazine.
- You have to have a tablet or smartphone to access the service (and a tablet is much better, with the extra size making things much easier to read), rather than a desktop or laptop computer. Also, the device has to be operable (so you can’t use it on a plane when taking off and landing, etc.) and charged, as a flat battery means no more reading!
- You can’t browse through a digital magazine to decide whether or not you want to buy it. Some magazines offer a free preview feature, but inevitably it is not that good, and certainly not the same as flicking through a magazine in a newsagent to see if it’s worth spending your money on.
- Not every article in EVO magazine is available on the EVO app, so it can feel a bit like ‘EVO Lite’ at times.
So are magazine apps the future of monthly publishing? It appears so. Does the impending demise of print magazines mean the demise of quality automotive journalism? Definitely not.