Will digital magazines have links?
Posted October 5, 2009on:
My former colleague Erick Schonfeld tweeted that question the other day.
I replied, “Links are for browsing the Web, not for lean-back reading experiences like books and mags.” Actually, I tweeted back something with more typos than that, but whatever, Erick replied:
“Right, I got that. So you would strip out all links from digital magazines, even if they are being read on a Web tablet?”
As usual, Erick got right to the heart of the problem, namely: How closed off from the Web will digital magazines on tablets be? This is a huge question because if the answer is, e-mags won’t be cut off from the Web at all, it leaves the barn door open, doesn’t it? Because if e-mags on tablets are just like Web sites, and there are links pointing you away from the product, we’re right back to the wide-open Web again. And we know that people don’t expect to pay for stuff on the Web.
But if you cut off the digital magazine from the Web, isn’t that a bit, well, Draconian? Don’t readers expect to be able to, at the very least, augment their understanding by using Wikipedia or (fill in your favorite reference site here)? And likewise, shouldn’t a digital magazine have a variety of Web services built in—news feeds from the mag’s website, say, or Twitter feeds?
There are no good answers to these questions yet, in part because there are no good examples yet of either digital magazines, or the tablets that will support them. I think many approaches will be tried once the good devices start to arrive.
I suspect though that the first digital magazines will use a less-is-more approach. This works for e-books, which don’t have links in the text, of course. Similarly, magazines are meant to be read—or at least “paged” through—cover to cover. Why would we put links or other devices that would pull the reader away from the product? I think the first-gen e-mags will assume that readers are subscribing so that they can immerse themselves in the magazine itself. The experience is similar to how many apps on the iPhone work—if you want to look something up on Wikipedia, you must leave the app. Yes, there are some apps that allow a kind of in-app browsing, but that tends to be a fairly gnarly experience and generally serves to keep users within the app.
So in summary: Magazines don’t need links. They should be like wonderful applications, surprising and delightful and fluid to use. If you want to browse the Web, close the app.
I assume Erick is interested in this because TechCrunch is working on its own tablet, which is really just a net-tablet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that and in the end, he/TechCrunch might be right—i.e. “It’s the Web, stupid.” But I hope not.