Digital Magazines: Is The Desktop Dead?

Eddie Brannan explains why agencies need to create immersive aspirational worlds in a post-print environment.

We’ll soon be proclaiming that the desktop computer is dead, and the only thing you’ll need it for is to download the app. And possibly not even that, because, unless you have an iPad, the next wave of tablets come with the real web.

At which point, in our Minority Report world, we’ll be back to square one, where content, creativity and brand equity, i.e. a unique point of view, matter more that the technology itself. Because there’ll be as many digital magazines saying the same thing, as there have been in print.

This is what people won’t pay for online.

I think what’s going to happen, and is already happening, is that the market for digital magazines will bifurcate. On one side of the fence we’ll have niche, subscription based models that don’t rely on advertising dollars, because the content and the inventory being sold is specialist. And, the best will also come with services that add even more value to the cost of subscribing.

On the other side, generic, mainstream content and inventory with, or without, ad sales based on meaningless numbers of eyeballs.

Eddie has this eloquent and insightful take on our shared frustration, and why agencies need to create immersive aspirational worlds in a post-print environment:

Fashion’s eventual embrace of the Internet came about for a variety of reasons, primarily the fact that magazine ads and expensively supported editorial was intangible at best in terms of ROI. Advertising in the glossies, say many, had become an ego contest. Like the starchitect-designed palaces of fashion in Tokyo’s Aoyama-Minami district, it was there primarily to impress rivals with a brand’s stature and prestige rather to actually generate revenue.

So brand met ’net through the auspices of e-commerce-propelled creative interactive agencies like CreateThe Group, lured by the raw analytics and hard sales that magazines were never able to provide, and we were told that print was dead. If it’s an exaggeration, it’s only a small one. The primacy of the magazine industry as the “intent generator” in the fashion marketplace is a thing of the past, and as print ad budgets continue to dwindle, many more fashion titles will go out of business, joining the many that already have.

So what will take their place? Magazines aren’t simply a vehicle for the advertising pages within. They provide a narrative around them, a cultural and social framework that is fundamentally intertwined with the content of the ads. They build a content-rich environment that paves the way for the consumer from the concept to the cash register. A quick survey of the current online media landscape shows a relatively flat terrain. There are a lot of aggregated blog sites, all essentially utilizing the same content with minimal and very similar editorial POV, and then there are the brands’ own agency-built e-commerce homes, which tend towards somewhat narrow, transaction-focused experiences, inevitably.

So what of Web magazines? Hedi Slimane spoke about this subject in an interview on Style.com. Here’s what he said:

“The Web site magazine will come way before the print version in the next decade…That said, fashion magazines, glossy magazines still use their Web sites for daily news and information only. I trust it might be interesting to invest strongly in art direction, besides hiring top editors, top photographers, and top models, which is hardly enough for Internet pages. Quite certainly, the Web sites of the magazines will have to move away from the “blog” format and create an inspiring, tight template for their photo productions or editorial content, a Web site that has the [same feeling of] luxury and glamour as flipping through a heavy glossy magazine.” [My emphasis]

OK, but content like that is expensive to produce, and the current CPM-based ad revenue models don’t support significant investment in content. Caroline Issa, editor-in-chief of Because, an internet “magazine” with an integrated e-commerce component, addressed that issue in an interview on businessoffashion.com thus: “We have a multi-strand approach…Advertising certainly will have a role, but the existing models around cost per click just don’t add up. We are looking at brand advertising and, of course, we are going to be very selective about the brands we will work with, just as we are in our print magazines.”

But Because isn’t a magazine. It doesn’t look like one, certainly doesn’t have any of the evocative, immersive style of Tank magazine, out of which Because emerged. It’s still “just a website,” at least in its initial incarnation.

So given that the sort of sumptuous, immersive experience of the full-blown fashion titles appears to be prohibitively expensive to replicate online by publishers, traditional or non-traditional (at least until current revenue models change), what is going to perform that function that “dead” print once performed? From where is the inspiration, aspiration, magic and dazzle going to emerge? That “intent generator” function was a crucial (albeit nebulous) element in the commercial mix, and it’s my belief that as slow as the fashion industry was to enter the online environment, it is equally slow in realizing just what it may be about to lose.

Of course it is not the case that there will be no more magazines. Magazines will always find sufficient dedicated souls to produce and purchase enough to keep afloat, albeit with great difficulty. But if the digital agencies and the fashion industry are collectively announcing the death of print, then it is beholden upon them, as good business practice, to look to the creation of deeper, richer, more rewarding experiences for customers between the virtual door and the virtual checkout. My gut is that even if an online shopper doesn’t begin the process by expecting it, if she can be so beguiled and enraptured by her journey through a brand’s online environment, by content-rich, associative and contextual treats that stimulate the mind, the eye and the imagination, then she will have become a convert to the brand even before the proposal of actually making a purchase has been put to her. And of course once it is proposed, it will be met with infinitely less resistance because the experience thus far has been so rewarding and affirming, so all-encompassing and sumptuous. Diana Hong, Creative Director at CreateThe Group (whose client roster includes Nowness/LVMH, Burberry, Marc Jacobs, and many other luxury fashion brands), sees the web as “a space for creation and great storytelling, that allows for the consumer to dive deeper, longer past a three-to-five-page printed editorial. As the web has matured and agencies are finding more creative ways to express themselves online, it’s also become much better at telling a story, just through experience alone.” Accordingly CTG is leading the way in building more immersive narratives around the brands it guides. Nowness, which promises “daily exclusives to love,” is an iterative project of CTG, who handled strategy, concept and design. It replaces the now-defunct e-luxury.com. Crucially, the new site depends upon a clearly defined editorial mission, and is helmed by Jefferson Hack, a name synonymous with fashion print publications, which suggests that the emergent synthesis of content and commerce will still call on traditional ideas to do with context and curation. Nowness, like the best of its print forbears, gathers ideas around a clear and distinctive voice and personality, and a rarified view of that which is to be desired.

This is what I believe the fashion environment after print’s death will look like. Again, it will pit brand against brand in a fiesta of competitive grandiosity, just like the fantasia of Aoyama-Minami, but the fashion business could never and would never and should never wish to lose that; it is part of its ineffable magic and a basis of its aspirational nature. And I firmly believe that the interactive agencies that realize what they can draw upon from the depth and richness of the print experience and apply that to their own solutions are the ones that will occupy the higher ground in the post-print fashion marketing environment. Print may be dead, but at one time it was the place the world turned to for inspiration and aspiration, for magic, imagination and ideas. Dead print’s heir will need to be all of that too. Fashion will demand nothing less of its new partner-in-arms.

Contributed by Eddie Brannan and Gill Linton

Eddie Brannan is a creative director and brand builder, born in London, living and working in NYC since 1997. He’s the CD of CITY magazine, it’s sister, CITYist.com, and the annual art title Spread ArtCulture. He also has his own sporadic newsprint zine, Something In The Way, and works on advertising and marketing initiatives in multiple media for a range of luxury brands.

His website is eddiebrannan.com, tweet at twitter.com/eddiebrannan. If you’d like to get in touch with him, please email eddie@eddiebrannan.com.

Gill is a freelance creative strategist in New York, and this is her planner’s perspective on the business of fashion. You can contact her at Gilllinton@me.com and follow her at twitter.com/gilllinton.

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