I have been buying/receiving two local IT magazines, Unwired and SA Computer Magazine for a little while now. I have bought every issue of Unwired since its launch last year. Notwithstanding the odd article that is worth reading and still current by the time I read it I have been disappointed by both magazines. For one thing the news in both magazines is dated by the time it hits the stands and not just by a week or so, but by months in some cases. Both magazines take advantage of the fact that readers may be a little bit behind the curve and are reporting on old gadgets and old trends, even taking into account the pace the rest of the country moves at relative to us feed junkies who start writing about something within hours of it filtering into our feed readers.
The way I see it, IT magazines (for lack of a better term) have a responsibility to educate their readers about what is going on now in the world of gadgets and all things IT-related/geeky/relevant to the publications’ focus area, not a month or two ago. Surely the journalists who write for these publications use the Web and are familiar with blogs like Engadget, Gizmodo and others? How is it they manage to only write about new gadgets months after they hit the market, if at all (I have read more than one mp3 player review where the results of the survey are skewed because the writer neglected to include a current version of a manufacturer’s device and instead picked the previous generation device alongside new versions of the other manufacturers’ devices).
The most recent example of this is the article about Vox in Unwired (page 23). The article takes up one page, about two thirds of which is filled with screenshots of Vox pages and with only three paragraphs of text to describe this blogging platform. Granted I am hardly representative of the average reader of these magazines and when I blog I may not be blogging for Joe Boerewors but I first wrote about Vox (as Vox and not Project Comet as it was initially called) in June 2006 and reviewed the service for the first time on 11 July 2006. Unwired published a superficial review of the service (another peeve of mine – these magazines have a tendency to publish really superficial articles at times when there should be a bit more detail) in this current issue, issue 5 (March 2007).
Another difficulty with these two publications is their online presence, more so in Unwired’s case. The Unwired site is a static site with almost no content, certainly no dynamic content (unless you include a thumbnail image of the month’s cover). The Unwired site is barely worth the visit, quite frankly. At least the SACM people are trying. They have a blog set up running WordPress and which they use to publish content every week or so. The posts are a little slap-dash (the formatting is all over the place and the posts are not terribly appealing visually) but there are at least posts. Readers of the SACM blog who wish to comment must log in to comment but it seems that bloggers can leave trackbacks (I’ll find out when I publish this post). The content is a little dry (pictures are good!) and not very exciting but, as I have already said, at least there is a blog.
Clearly publishing in one medium alone is not the answer, certainly not only in print. I do have a theory about how to make use of the Web and print to really make the most of a magazine. I have no experience publishing magazines (unless you count my blogs) so I could be talking out of my left nostril but I believe that print versions of the magazine should be for articles that tend to date less or which are about something which happened a couple days or so before the magazine went to print. The publisher concerned should also run a blog for the magazine’s site and should make sure that all the bits and pieces that are newsworthy and which didn’t make it into the print version are published on the blog frequently. There could be tie-ins between the print edition and the blog posts (more detailed reviews on the blog, for example) to generate more traffic to the site and perhaps improve print subscriptions by providing a better content offering overall. Sites like Engadget and Gizmodo have clearly demonstrated how lucrative and valuable a well maintained tech blog can be so why has this model not been adopted locally? There is so much that can be done using social media that these magazines (as pretty and glossy as they are) look more and more like media dinosaurs that I am highly unlikely every to subscribe to (and somewhat reluctant to buy in future) because I can find better content on the Web for free.