Two-way street

Web strategies used to be a real
headache for glossy magazine publishers agonising
over cannibalisation and revenue models. Oliver
Bennett finds a complementary approach to the
integration of on- and off-line products works best

Web strategies used to be a real headache for glossy magazine publishers agonising over cannibalisation and revenue models. Oliver Bennett finds a complementary approach to the integration of on- and off-line products works best

The glossy magazine is still finding an accommodation with the Web. Do an Internet search for a title, and you’ll often find a referral site or a simulation. One company, Zinio, transfers magazines to the Web simply by digitising pages into a pdf format.

Perhaps it’s a category problem. Magazines, high-end glossies in particular, are made for leisure: the coffee table, the flight, the café. Yes, some are about shared interests, and thus fit the Web 2.0 ethos well. But in general, magazines and e-zines have been seen as shadows of each other, says John Weir, director of on-line publishing company Excite. ‘On-line is about information, off-line is about aspiration. They are complementary and different.”

Yet now, the need to bring magazine sophistication on-line is moving apace. Recent top-end examples include The New York Times’ TMagazine and Honda’s Dream Online customer magazine. Then there’s The Times’ quarterly, Luxx, launched in November and designed by Tomaso Capuano, who wanted to ‘keep the feel of print – like a magazine, not a website’, and at the same time use the potential of the Web. So, like a print magazine, Luxx is arranged in spreads, with pages turnable by mouse-drag and animated elements – for instance, the cover model bows her head when the cursor rolls over. ‘We wanted to make the animation witty and integral to the product,’ ‹ says Capuano. ‘If you’re on-line, it’s really important that you understand and use the Internet.’ Which includes paying attention to different typographical demands: rather than use a serif face for body copy, Capuano chose Arial, and enlarged captions and pull-quotes.

Examples like Luxx show a far greater emphasis on on-line quality in the face of a changing industry. ‘Magazines are finding it harder to lure people away from websites,’ says Weir, adding that some on-line versions – the Radio Times, for instance – have different readerships and business models, not least because websites are usually free. Moreover, the Web has other advantages: no space limitations, ad-per-page ratios, and no long lead times that leave content looking stale.

‘The key is not to replicate the experience,’ says David-Michel Davies, director of The Webby Awards. ‘A magazine has different attributes to a website, and the Web is littered with failed sites that tried to replicate print media.’ It is the possibilities for interaction, video and moving imagery that fuel Web design opportunities. ‘They won’t be able to replace the tactile reading experience, but you can watch a runway show,’ adds Davies, citing fashion e-zine as a site that, even without a paper edition, has gained a sumptuous top-end magazine feeling.

Meanwhile, websites for existing magazines should treat them as different parts of the brand. Take UK Vogue, which last year won ‹ a Webby Award. ‘The Web product has a different objective,’ says Christa Laubscher, head of design at CondéNet UK, ‘which is to give added value and content in a way that is more newsy and immediate.’ The on-line platform offers readers an invitation to engage, adds Laubscher. ‘High-resolution magazine layouts should be translated into template-based Web pages that focus on interactivity.’

Until recently, says Wallpaper art director Tony Chambers, there was a fear that a website would cannibalise the magazine, and as recently as a couple of years ago Wallpaper had not really focused on its on-line product. Now, under website art director Mark McManus, it is a full-fledged multimedia product, with stories and services such as its directories (see picture) that use the capabilities of the Web. ‘It’s like having a graphic on-line encyclopedia,’ says Chambers. ‘The Web also enables us to be more newsy. Wallpaper demands exclusivity, which is easier on the website as we can put a story up immediately.’ And far from the photography being degraded, Chambers says it is almost preferable on-line, as a recent photo-piece about Prada and Rem Koolhaas illustrates. ‘We couldn’t afford to give it that much space in print,’ he says. To avoid it being a dump, you need very strict editing processes, just as in other areas, which brings the publishing ethos full circle. ‘It’s an interesting time,’ says Chambers. ‘Websites are more like newspapers, newspapers are more like magazines, and magazines are more like books.’

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