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Trendspotter: A time for words

Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only newspaper The Daily has folded. But is a whole new kind of publication about to revolutionise print media?

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation launched its iPad-only newspaper The Daily amid great hype in February 2011.

Here, implied News Corps and its partner Apple - and an enthusiastic gaggle of media commentators - was the future of publishing: a newspaper as a digital product, made bespoke for tablet devices, sold for $0.99 (Dh3.63) a week with no physical incarnation. Murdoch himself summed up the advantages at the launch event in New York: "There's no paper, no multimillion-dollar presses, no trucks, and we're passing on these savings to the reader. The target audience is the 50 million Americans expected to own tablets in the next year."

It all sounded so promising. Fast-forward 22 months, though, and the dream is already over. News Corp closed The Daily on December 15 for a simple reason: too few readers, meaning too little revenue. The future of publishing is not, it seems, as simple as we thought.

There's been much post-mortem analysis of The Daily over the past few weeks. One persuasive vein of analysis has it that the publication failed because - like almost all the digital publications out there today - it never really was a digital publication. Instead, it simply took the content, presentation and the whole nature of a traditional print newspaper and plastered that all over an iPad screen. We still don't know what a truly digital publication looks like, runs this analysis, because we haven't invented it yet.

Coincidentally, though, a few weeks before The Daily folded, a new magazine began life that some commentators believe really does point the way towards the future of publishing. And it looks a whole lot different from The Daily.

This new publication - available for the Apple Newsstand - is called simply The Magazine and it's a general interest read for people who love technology. So far, so standard. But The Magazine is the creation of Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper - a reading app that saves online articles for later reading and presents them via a stripped down, text-only layout. Crucially, The Magazine is informed by the same pared-down sensibility: it publishes once every two weeks, presenting just four articles of around 1,000 words, each via a single, scrollable page with minimal to no illustration.

Is this, then, what the future of publishing really looks like? The influential technology, design and content blogger Craig Mod thinks so. Soon after the arrival of The Magazine he wrote a long blog post titled Subcompact Publishing (http://craigmod.com/journal/subcompact_publishing) that quickly went viral. In the post, Mod compares the disruptive potential of The Magazine to that of the subcompact cars that Honda pioneered in the late 1960s.

People, runs this argument, don't want print magazine style publications on their digital devices. While they work well on paper, on touch-screen they become cumbersome, difficult to navigate and visually busy. Instead, digital devices and the tablet reading experience demands the kind of stripped down publication embodied by The Magazine.

Crucially, the economics work, too. The Daily had 100,000 subscribers generating about $3 million (Dh11m) in revenue, but even that wasn't enough to fund the large editorial team it took to produce it. The Magazine, by contrast, has one editor - Arment - and pays four writers a modest fee - cover those costs and the rest is profit.

Sure, subcompact is not yet a fully realised media trend. But 2013 could see the arrival of a swathe of subcompact publications. And that very well might mean a whole new, and resolutely digital, world for print media.

 

David Mattin is lead strategist at trendwatching.com