Next generation digital magazines: 10 evolutionary trends

Digital magazines are finally diverging from their print siblings, and evolving into a new, more interactive and tactile medium.  The finalists for the 2014 Digital Magazine Awards have largely left print replicas behind, and are merging graphics, animations, audio, video, data and user content in with traditional long form feature articles, to create products that engage readers more in the style of interactive games or TV programmes than print derived page-turners.

So what are the key trends in the evolution of the next generation of digital mags?

1.    Covers like movie trailers

Covers are having to work harder to tease the reader into the magazine, and using familiar audio tracks (Grand Designs), full on video (Metal Hammer) animations (National Geographic, Focus) or slideshows (AlJazeera, Empire) to entice an audience.  Wired’s October cover encourages the reader to rearrange the cover lines with their fingertips.

2.    Free form navigation

Instead of the control freakery of the page plan, most magazines now have visually led contents pages that allow the reader to skip straight to their favourite feature (Elle, BBC History, Focus etc..).  And within features, readers can choose their own path to explore the content, tapping on images to read interviews or product reviews and exploring the content in their own preferred order (Edge, History Revealed).  The favoured layout is still the “washing line” with features arranged horizontally and readers scrolling down vertically to read all the content.

3.    Hidden depth of content

Publishers and designers are getting smarter at packing more content into a single page.  The new convention is the small + sign for extra hidden content, revealing captions or extra data, and pull out boxes from bottom or side of the page are also popular, slightly reminiscent of children’s paper pop-up books.  And the hard core can go even deeper with PDF downloads (Flight Safety Australia), archive maps, letters & documents (History Revealed) or extra stats (Grand Designs).  Easily swiped scrolling text, historical timelines or simply extended picture galleries continue the Tardis-like sensation.

4.    Graphics & visualisations

The ability to pack extra information in each page makes maps, graphics and visualisations an easy way to allow the reader to explore.  Elle uses a checkerboard graphic for “shop the drop” and several magazines have a calendar of “what’s on” or a map showing historical sites to visit or locations for a day out.  The excellent Kids Discover Ecology extends this to a food web and a water cycle, with popup info for each stage, and History Revealed uses illustrated maps to explain the story behind key battlefields.

5.    Video and audio

Video is proven to draw readers attention, and publishers are enhancing more articles with video clips, often streamed to save on download sizes.  Kids Discover Ecology uses video very effectively in feature content pages, and Edge includes clips of the games it reviews.  As well as including relevant third party video clips, Focus shoots its own explanatory and reviews video content.  And more magazines are making use of audio clips to enhance features, whether archive radio (BBC History) or interviews.

6.    Animations

Many publishers are going beyond quirky feature animations to grab attention – such as section titles in Edge or Focus, or the London bus in Elle’s London Fashion Week coverage – to create animations that add real depth to the content.  For example. Grand Designs has an animated CAD of a new build going up, and National Geographic has amazing animations of river valleys and reservoirs and dinosaur reconstructions.

7.    Tactile activities

More titles are getting the user’s fingertips involved in the content.  Al Jazeera has a cover that reveals new content as the user rubs away the old.  Quizzes are nicely rendered in Flight Safety Australia, Focus and BBC History, and the last two also offer a prize crossword puzzle to complete and submit.  National Geographic has a nicely built jigsaw puzzle using lush photos to assemble against the clock.  But the most appealing is the wordsearch in Kids Discover Ecology, where a finger leaves a thin green trace like a felt pen.

8.    Web integration

Tablet magazines are mostly read at home or in a wifi-enabled environment, so readers can explore further detail in a publisher website.  Elle has abundant web links for fashion stockists, and e-science provides links from features to teaching and learning resources on its website. Homes and London links from glossy images of developments to its online property catalogue, and National Geographic connects to the instagram posts of its photographers while out on assignment.

9.    Reader interaction & sharing

It’s harder to include reader content in interactive magazines on the app store  than it is on web-based digital magazines.  A real strength of Get the Gloss is its lively reader comments section – and the chance for reads to chat online with their experts. But several titles encourage readers to submit stories, and National Geographic has a section on reader pics, albeit pulled from the website.  And Gurgle encourages social sharing for its articles.

10. Native style ads

The majority of ads are clearly just repurposed print ads, although some have interaction added.  Focus and Top Gear are developing advertisement features using their editorial platform, which allows advertisers to provide detailed galleries and scrolling text, so the ad sits more comfortably alongside editorial.

So if these are the ten main trends emerging in digital magazines, how do you plan to evolve your mobile publications?

The winners of the Digital Magazine Awards were announced on 25 Nov.  It’s definitely worth checking out the category winners to understand best practice in this evolving publishing discipline.

About the author:  Carolyn Morgan has launched, grown, acquired and sold media businesses across print, digital and events.  She has programmed several highly regarded conferences on digital publishing and advises publishers on their digital strategy.

If you’d like a chat about how you can reinvent your publishing or media business for the digital age, please get in touch.

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