Digital Media, You Have Curation Problem

journeygroupAmong magazine readers, the preference for print goes way beyond a simple romance with the look and feel of glossy paper.

To be successful, a print publisher must master the idea of finite space, creating a carefully curated edition each time they go to press. This idea is antithetical to the current state of digital affairs and its never-ending stream of content. A recent report from Journey Group points out the need for digital publishers to grasp the idea of boundaries.

“Daunted by the boundless realities of the Internet age, readers are seeking refuge in sites that simplify their users’ options and provide more guided, curated content,” the report notes.

To address the fact that close to three out of four of us feel overloaded by the “news surplus,” the authors recommend that “magazine publishers should create mobile-first, responsive sites the present finite packages of hand-picked content.”

In other words, they should aim to recreate what print magazines already do so well.

“While a stack of printed back issues of National Geographic may seem intimidating, it is not unapproachable,” wrote writer, designer and publisher Craig Mod in a 2012 CNN article. “The magazines may be dense, but you know where you stand as you read them. But what about staring at an empty search box leading into the deep archive of”

“Petrifying. Boundless,” he answered. “Like standing on the edge of a giant reservoir in the dead of the night, looking down into its infinite blackness. Link after related link keeps pushing you along until, suddenly, you may end up reading about polar bears on an entirely different website, and maybe you haven’t been up for air in hours.”

Mod’s article predicted that magazines would cease to exist in print, and he cited Newsweek’s decision at the time to go digital-only. We all know how that turned out; two years later and Newsweek is back in print. Still, his point about boundaries and the finite qualities of good curation remains brutally relevant.

This idea is critical to understanding why digital magazine uptake has been lagging.

“Perhaps that lends insight into why the majority of consumers are still most likely to read magazines in printed form,” the report notes.  “According to the 2013 edition of the Association for Magazine Media’s factbook, of the 91 percent of adults in America who reported reading magazine media, 87 percent said that they still did so via the conventional printed editions.”

Creating that finite package, which is read from beginning to end, should be current Holy Grail for digital publishers. They could learn a lot from print.