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I just read a great article called iPadded Profits? that takes to task publishers and consumers alike who don’t know how much they should pay or charge for a digital magazine. He references this post that talks about cost and functionality of digital magazines as common frustrations. One of the commenters pointed out that people either want their digital edition to be cheaper or they want to get some additional functionality or information out of it.

I was floored last night at Barnes & Noble at the cost of printed magazines. Most copies were $4.99 or $5.99. Many copies were $9.99 and $10.99. Huh? I could have bought books for the prices of these magazines (at least on the bargain aisle). I almost bought a copy of Bloomberg Businessweek, but at $4.99, I chose instead to buy a copy on Zinio where I had a $5 credit. It was between Businessweek and Oxford American for me at that price point, and I chose Oxford American because, for the same price, I could have a magazine that’s outdated tomorrow (because Businessweek is a weekly) or one that’s not outdated until nearly Independence Day. So…Oxford American won, hands down. And on Zinio, I got the newer version of Businessweek that hasn’t hit the newsstands yet.

So if prices on the actual newsstand are so high that I’m playing expiry-date games to choose where to spend my money, what does that say for digital magazines? From a consumer perspective, I believe a digital version (that is, a nearly PDF version that does not have added functionality, like most magazines on Zinio and other digital newsstands) should cost slightly less than a printed version. I believe a digital version that has additional functionality as part of an app (like Bloomberg Businessweek’s app) should cost the same as a printed version.

What I hope the publishing world goes to is a model like The Wall Street Journal’s, which is a choice between a print subscription, a digital subscription, and a combination print and digital at a reduced rate.

What’s your thought? Have you read a magazine on an iPadiPhoneAndroidBlackberry, or your laptop/desktop? What was the experience like for you? How much are you willing to pay for a print magazine, and how much do you think you should pay for a digital version of the same?

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

Photo courtesy of Food Network Humor

Food Network Magazine recently ran a cover whoopsie of the magazine Tails. Everybody has a mistake every once in a while, but it’s really unfortunate when the lack of a comma on a cover makes it sound like a celebrity cooks her own family and pet. Read the whole article here.

I can’t judge too much, I guess. I once let a headline run with the word “success” spelled with only one C. And even better, in one article, a white box in post-production covered the B in the title of my magazine so that underneath the writer’s name, it said “ASS Times Senior Writer” instead of “BASS Times Senior Writer.” Good one! (Let me add that I do not recommend making mistakes, and that I find those two incidents to be awful — not amusing — but they do keep me humble. And I don’t insult someone else’s mistake without pointing these two out.)

The best thing you can learn from a typo that gets printed is to watch closer … and closer … and closer. And get as many eyeballs on it as possible ahead of time.

What’s the worst magazine mistake you’ve ever seen?

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review


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Filmfare (www.filmfare.com)

Issue reviewed: Jan. 5, 2011

  • Published in Mumbai, India, by Worldwide Media Ltd.
  • Circulation: 142,000; Readership: 1.9 million
  • 148 pages, perfect bound

Audience

  • mostly students
  • 42% have an annual HHI of more than $120,000 Rupees (equivalent to about $2,700)
  • 50% ages 20 to 34
  • 63% male

Editorial

Heard of Bollywood? It’s as dear to the Indian pop culture as Hollywood is to us (or, as Hollywood thinks it is to us anyway!). The editorial content in Filmfare is much like a gossip mag in America: very casual in tone, no deep reads, short snippets. It’s light on evidence, heavy on gossip. Filmfare also spends many, many pages on fashion and movie reviews. And — given my limited knowledge of Indian culture — I was surprised at how racy the whole magazine is. There’s a whole lot of naked male torsos and revealing dresses. Whoa!

Design

The design is pretty good. Filmfare, of course, relies heavily on the photography captured by its paparazzi, as well as from professional photo shoots of the stars. The point is that the pages are made up of photos of beautiful people, and it’s generally hard to make a page ugly when you have stunningly good-looking people on the page. In a few spots, the design choices were questionable to me — usually in the places that overused green backgrounds. But on the whole, it’s a very attractive magazine, with good use of icons, colors, typography and photography. The features, in particular, were well-designed.

What’s Best

  • Supershort copy: Filmfare is one of those magazines you can read twice; you can flip through it once and read just the short chunks of copy, then you can come back later and spend almost as much time only reading the longer pieces. The reader can get a ton of information about hundreds of celebrities in a short period of time — perfect for students’ short attention spans!
  • Five things you must know about: This department has five short pieces of info about a certain star. In this issue, it was Kulraj Randhawa and Utsav Gandhi. What it is lacking is quotes from said stars. It should be more substantial than it is, but it is still irresistible to read all five items.
  • Dramatics: As with American celebrities, the Bollywood counterparts are surrounded by drama. Who’s leaving who, who’s hooking up, who just got an amazing new role. Filmfare capitalizes on this, of course, but especially so in the headlines. For instance, this is the headline for an article about Hrithik Roshan: “I want my story to be the greatest ever.” (Narcissistic much?) The quote-as-title theme continues for other features, including “The term star kid gives me allergies” and “I am a social outcast.” I don’t know any of these stars, but I sure felt like I had to read these articles to find out about the kid-actor allergy and what makes Ronit Roy an outcast.

What’s Worst

  • Body type: The body copy was legible throughout, but the designers have some serious spacing issues. Sometimes they go rag right, sometimes justified — even in the same article! The breaks are all over the place, spacing is often off, and the magazine flip-flops between two returns separating paragraphs and a return and an indent. Nitpickers like me cannot take this type of inconsistency, especially when it’s such an easy fix.
  • Journalistic merit: It’s pretty common with celeb mags for gossip to rule and facts to be secondary, but I hate it regardless. A real story has a source or a quote or attribution of some sort. I’m not a fan of speculation journalism.

Overall Opinion

Filmfare was a great study in Bollywood culture. One of my favorite things on my trip to India was the fashion, and Filmfare lives and breathes current fashion. Another thing I loved was listening to my brother-in-law’s cousins talking about Bollywood stars — and I didn’t have a clue! So to read about some of the stars was exciting. There is NO crossover (that I can tell) of Hollywood and Bollywood, so Indians don’t know Jennifer Aniston any more than we know Shruti Haasan. Personally, going through a magazine packed with wildly famous people that I’ve never seen before is a really great (and different) experience. For the good photography and short copy, but a few flaws here and there, I give Filmfare a B.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

I don’t like to see people get fired. Especially when I feel attached to them. When Michael Bloomberg took over BusinessWeek, I swore it off. I had gotten BusinessWeek free for three years as part of my Executive MBA program. I loved it. I would spend a couple of hours every week reading it, fantasizing about how smart I would be someday and creating a mental image of how refined I already was for reading BusinessWeek in my spare time.

So when multiple employees (many of them editorial) were let go last year, I was unhappy. I had read their stories, looked at their charts, absorbed their sidebars. I felt like this know-it-all millionaire had come into my playground and messed up the sandbox. I just was not going to play anymore.

But time has passed, and this new article has piqued my interest in the magazine once again. Richard Turley, a 30-something from Britain (a little reminiscent of Jonathan Ive, maybe?), pushed for a dramatic redesign and got it. The magazine’s creative director is daring with charts and photo shoots and concepts. I love this quote of his:

“One of the things I wanted to do was to have a magazine which you could graze. The idea that you could have two different kinds of reading experiences. One where you just flick through it. There’s a lot of ways of getting into articles, there’s a lot of things going on the page that hopefully catch your eye. So you can have a rich reading experience without actually reading the magazine. But, if you want to read the magazine, there’s a lot there to read.”

So what changed with the redesign? Everything. The covers are really intriguing — I’ve been watching them the last few months. I’ve just downloaded the new Bloomberg Businessweek iPad app that I plan to spend time with this afternoon, and next time I’m in the bookstore, I’ll pick up a physical copy. Some complaints I’ve read about it say that the magazine traded content for looks, or that the journalism has suffered so that the book will be more beautiful. I hope that’s not the case. Because now, after this year-and-a-half-or-so of being without the magazine, I want to open it again and enjoy it.

Have you seen the new Bloomberg Businessweek? What do you think of it? Click through here to see some of the more interesting pages from the past year.

Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

Update 4/25/11: Richard Turley got even more praise today by WWD Media. The entire article is here. This is an excerpt: “Turley, a quick study of the company line, explained how the open seating plan in the Bloomberg offices encourages the magazine’s art directors and editors, who sit amongst each other in the office, to collaborate. ‘Bloomberg is a very ego-flat place to work,’ he said.”

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New York (www.nymag.com)

Issue reviewed: September 27, 2010, Vol. 43, No. 30

  • Published in New York, N.Y., by New York Media LLC
  • Circulation: 427,000; 7.4 million unique views per month online
  • 110 pages, saddlestitch

Audience

  • median age: 44
  • median HHI: $94,604
  • 36% professional/managerial, 16% top management at their companies
  • 52% women

Editorial

The writing is so good throughout New York. I kept skimming articles so I could get through the magazine a little faster, but they kept drawing me in and I’d end up reading the whole piece. So I didn’t get through it very quickly! New York’s writing is informative, sympathetic, diverse and eclectic. Until you get to the last few pages, which are about what to do and where to do it, New York appeals to readers anywhere in the country who care about politics and entertainment.

Design

The design is good in parts but lacking in others. On The Approval Matrix, the last page of the Sept. 27 issue, it’s a cute idea — separating people, books, songs, shows, etc., into quadrants of interest (highbrow/lowbrow and brilliant/despicable). The content is very good, but the page lacks a focal point or that one great thing that makes you read the page. Good photos, just not draw-you-in use of the photos.

What’s Best

  • Comments: On page 6, New York includes a summary of reader commentary about articles in a previous issue. The comments are written prose style, so you’re actually reading a story about what people thought of the topics. Very smart, very engaging. And who wouldn’t, after reading this section, want to submit their comments to the New York e-mail address?
  • The Neighborhood News: This graphic representation of a few city news briefs is so readable. The blocks of copy are so short and random (“Lady Gaga ordered a pizza to go at the Grimaldi’s takeout counter.”) that you can’t help but read them.
  • Illustrations: New York uses tons of illustrations — including tons of cartoons/comic strips to illustrate celebrity-isms, like in Gossipmonger, and to highlight political issues, like at the beginning of Intelligencer. Original and fun to read.

What’s Worst

  • Comments: Is it ironic that I have the same section in under “worst” as I do “best”? The reason is, I love the content. I really dislike the design. It’s so plain, so textbook, so uninviting. New York, please don’t let readers skip over this great section because they’re not invited to read it!
  • Gray matter: I’m a big fan of words and of using a lot of them. But some of the pages are so full of gray copy that the reader hesitates to jump in. On the pages where the designers got to design, the graphics generally looked great. But on mostly-words pages, it’s apparent the designers lost the battle against space, time and the almighty editorial department.

Overall Opinion

New York is an interesting read, even for a non-New Yorker like me. I would definitely pick up another copy. In some spots, the design looks a little dated, although I assume that’s because New York’s staff is trying to maintain some sense of old-school, the-standard, newsy-type look. I don’t fault them that, but I would enjoy more color and more white space. But for its value as a resource (along with its complementary website) and as a guide to the politics and entertainment its readers enjoy, I give New York an A.

I invite your comments! Check out the magazine or its website and tell me what you think of it.

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

What makes a cover tick? Its artistic merit? Stop-you-in-your-tracks cover blurbs? Incredible colors? Clever photography?

None of the above. What makes a cover tick is its readers’ desire to pick up the issue, open the magazine and plunk down cold, hard cash.

Sucks, huh? We editors and designers think we have it all figured out. We don’t. It reminds me of something Zach Frechette of Good Magazine said when he spoke to a group of us about magazine covers at the 2008 Folio Conference: “Don’t be fooled by the big guys. No one else knows what they’re doing either.”

I was inspired by this post by Folio today. It’s a great article in which the writer asked several editors what their least selling cover was and asked them to analyze the reason for the low sell-through. All of them said some version of the same thing: The readers didn’t connect with the cover. The image here of the Inc. cover is an example. No matter how cute the little girl with the guitar is, readers of this business magazine don’t really connect with her.

We did an experiment at work one time where we had four covers we liked. Our editor thought it would be a great idea to put the four covers on our website and let our readers vote for the winning cover. They did, and, boy, were we way off! The cover we all liked the least won. The colors were awful, the angle of the photo was weird, and it paled in comparison stylistically to the covers that all of us in the office preferred.

The difference was that the winning cover had a big ol’ bass on it. That’s right! That’s what our fisherman readers love most. The thrill of the pursuit, the mastery of the biggest fish in the water, the conquering of bass bigger than what your friends have caught. We know that’s what they like, but we didn’t know they valued that more highly than all the other factors, combined, that make up a cover .

So what makes a good cover? Frechette told us what his art and editorial teams at Good decided on as their rules for each issue:

1. Don’t sell out subscribers. Don’t go for the newsstand look so much that it alienates those readers who have committed to you.

2. Create art. Be proud of what you create. Make it wall-hangable.

3. There’s no secret success formula. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you there is. Everyone’s just guessing.

Frechette added that these are the elements the magazine minds look for when creating covers:

  • clever, provocative, fun
  • simple
  • edgy content
  • compelling cover lines
  • bold visuals

What do you look for on a magazine cover? Have you ever bought a magazine because you specifically liked the cover — or not bought one because you didn’t?

Want more related reading? Try out these articles:

Seven Design Principles of Magazine Covers

20 Magnificent Magazine Covers

The Most Controversial Magazine Covers of All Time

Great Magazine Cover Design

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I’ve mentioned before how enamored I am of social media. It’s something I’ve been pushing at work for ages but haven’t had a lot of buy-in. Recently, someone has come in who is as excited about it as I am, and she let me go to our company’s biggest event of the year and Tweet and Facebook about it the whole time. The result? Hundreds of new followers and serious engagement from our people. That is amazing!

It seems like I’m going off track here, but I’m not really: I work for a publishing company, and because The Sidebar Review critiques magazines, I’m going to explain why it’s important for magazines to jump into the fray. (Most already have, but I still want to share my observations.)

  1. Our community was dying to connect and didn’t really know how. We gave them the “how.”: We had about 20,000 followers on our Facebook page before our big event. They occasionally chimed in when we asked them a question or posted a photo if they felt inspired. But in the last month, we have gained 3,000 followers, and they are posting everything — photos of their fish, their boats, bass pros; comments negative and positive; mistakes they saw on our website; questions about customer service matters; videos of them singing songs they wrote; and praise for their favorite pros. We had no idea how starved our audience was for more interaction with us, with the brand and with fellow fishermen. It was beautiful.
  2. Our brand has a “face” now.: Our brand is strong, but we’ve known for a while that people felt disconnected from us — like if they called or e-mailed us, they may or may not hear back, and if they did hear back, they may or may not hear from a human. Now, our readers have a direct line to us. One asked on our Facebook page if we would allow siamese twins to fish our tournaments as a single person then combine their catch; I replied, “One tournament entry per brain.” This guy thought it was hilarious. (I thought it was mildly amusing, but he really cracked up.) I think that guy will always remember our brand for that. And that’s important because people connect with people, not businesses; we’re finally a “people” again.
  3. Our followers feel special.: One Twitter follower commented that he was getting information faster from me through Twitter than through our auto-update website during the weigh-in. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but he felt like it was. I was recapping for him in an almost-live stream what was happening on stage, and he said he felt like he was there because of me. Another guy told me he and his family were at dinner but they were all crowded around his iPhone watching my Tweets. He felt like I was catering to him and his family when they couldn’t be near a computer. How cool is that?

We are so much more than a magazine. We always have been. But now our readers know that too. And that makes me beam with pride!

Do you connect with any magazines through social media? What has your experience been like?

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review