Digital Publishing: Subcompact Publishing (via @craigmod, HT: @daringfireball)

Craig Mod takes a very good, and very long look at the core of digital publishing (with a focus on magazines).

… Zip drives ate floppies. CDs ate Zips. DVDs ate CDs. SD cards ate film. LCDs ate CRTs. Telephony ate telegraphy. Text messaging ate talking. Tablets are eating our paper …


Publishing incumbents have been faced with disruption for years. But a curious, natural thing is happening: another, increasingly difficult to dismiss publishing ecosystem — disconnected from and unbeholden to legacy — is emerging. Bubbling up.

Craig references Marco Arment's  'The Magazine' (to which I am currently subscribed) as a good example of a modern digital-first publishing attitude. He's right: every time I open the Magazine application and read through the issues I think to myself how awesome it would be if some of the speculative fiction magazines I read adopted the same form factor and approach.

The farther out we zoom, the clearer this becomes. A generalized print magazine may be composed of the following qualities:

  • Each issue contains a dozen or more articles.
  • Issues operate on a monthly cycle.
  • All articles are bundled and shipped at the same time.

Almost all of these qualities are the result of responses to distribution and production constraints. Printing and binding takes a certain amount of time. Shipping the issues takes another chunk of time. In order to find a balance between timeliness of content and shelf-life, a month makes a pretty sensible — if brisk — publishing schedule.

But of course in the digital world these constraints don't apply in the same way. Craig identifies a list of core effective features of a digital publication:

I propose Subcompact Publishing tools and editorial ethos begin (but not end) with the following qualities:

  • Small issue sizes (3-7 articles / issue)
  • Small file sizes
  • Digital-aware subscription prices
  • Fluid publishing schedule
  • Scroll (don’t paginate)
  • Clear navigation
  • HTML(ish) based
  • Touching the open web

Many of these qualities play off one another. Let’s look at them in detail.

And he does. Click through if you are interested in digital magazine publishing. It really is a worthwhile article: