Publishers should steal Pi foundation’s approach to digital magazines

If you’ve not read Wireframe, it’s a British fortnightly games magazine, largely aimed at people with an interest in creating games. I was fortunate enough to write for the debut issue (a fun overview of the explosions in arcade classic Defender), but am also very impressed by the user experience of the magazine itself.

This isn’t something addressed by a great deal of publishers – they either forget how magazines can work in the digital age, or they figure out ways to get more money from readers who prefer flexibility over a fixed format. By contrast, every single issue of Wireframe (and any other magazine from the Pi foundation) can be downloaded for free as a PDF.

It’s an interesting model – open and inclusive. If you genuinely can’t afford the mag, you can still read it. If you’re not sure about it, you can check out a couple of issues, after which you may well subscribe. (At least, if you believe it’s good to support media you love, lest it disappear.) And if you buy in stores or subscribe, you get the bonus of digital backups as a reward for your purchase.

I much prefer paper over digital. I can just about stomach comics on an iPad, but gloss over when it comes to magazines and prose books. But I also don’t want piles of paper magazines with the odd article I might want to refer to in future. Most publishers don’t care about this. It’s a weird stance.

Publishers should be trying to lock-in readers via subscriptions, and doing everything they can to keep them. Free digital back-ups (even if they aren’t ‘openly’ available) seem like a good bet. But mostly you see publishers trying to double dip – 30% off (or similar) if you buy both paper and digital subscriptions.

Technically, a paper mag and a digital mag are two separate items. I know purists who argue people shouldn’t rip media they own to digital, and would say you shouldn’t expect a free digital back-up of a paper magazine or comic that you buy. They’re right. However, we exist in a time where media is being shaken up. Major corporations are shifting to wider subscription models. You subscribe to all music, or all telly, or all comics. Gaming services like this are happening too. Want to keep your subscribers/buyers yourself? Then do better by them! Give them more!

Sure, you as a publisher or creator might be happier if I pay 50 quid for a year’s subscription and then 30 quid on top of that for some PDFs. But that just makes me feel like you’re squeezing me for every penny. But I’ll be more likely to stick around if you decide as a publisher to improve my user experience regardless.

So, to me, Wireframe and other Pi foundation mags are at the very top of the heap – the shining example. But print publishers needn’t go that far. They could still boost stickiness by locking PDFs/CBRs behind an account number, and give readers the best of both worlds – but not expect them to pay for the same content twice.

February 4, 2019. Read more in: Magazines, Opinions, Technology

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So long and thanks for all the fish, MacUser UK

MacUser UK is to close. Gutted isn’t really the word for how I’m feeling right now about this news, so I can only imagine what editor Adam Banks must feel like.

MacUser was one of the first titles to commission me when I started writing for a living, and I’ve bought it on and off since the mid-1990s. When Adam took over again a few years ago, he very rapidly transformed the magazine into something else—a technology title that dared to be different, in a manner echoing Apple.

Within the pages of MacUser, you’d not find a great deal of templated fare, and sometimes not even a great deal of content directly about the Mac. What you would find was interesting opinion and analysis about technology, brilliant insight into design and creativity, and in-depth features on all kinds of creative fare. All this was wrapped up in stunning design and layout work that let the content breathe and positively begged you to explore every page.

In short, MacUser felt like a magazine created for me.

It’s terrible to think that just one more edition will drop through the letterbox and then that’s it—no more MacUser. The publishing world just feels wrong without it.

January 16, 2015. Read more in: Magazines

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What happens to your money when an Apple Newsstand publication is cancelled?

As I recently wrote, Tap! magazine was cancelled. As always with Future Publishing, you get a single-page PDF alongside the final issue, stating that because no more issues are being released, you should seek a refund. I’d not tried this in the past with any publisher, because the amounts had been tiny (I’d been fortunate in mag cancellations almost coinciding with the end of a subscription period), but my Tap! subscription refreshed only a month or so ago.

I duly wrote to iTunes support as follows:

Future Publishing has stated Tap! has ceased publication and no new issues are going to be released. I am therefore writing to get a refund for my outstanding subscription.

A couple of hours later, I got an email from customer support:

Craig, I’m delighted to inform you that under the circumstances, I’ve determined that a refund is appropriate.

Job done. Only then on Twitter, someone mentioned this hadn’t happened for them. Instead, they were told the refund request was carefully considered”; however:

[…] according to the iTunes Store Terms of Sale, all purchases made on the iTunes Store are final. This policy matches Apple’s refund policies and provides protection for copyrighted materials.

So, which is it? Are Newsstand subscriptions ‘final’ purchases where your money vanishes if a publication does? Are you entitled to a refund? Is it all just a crapshoot, depending on which person deals with your support request?

Right now, despite my good experience, I can’t say I’m full of confidence regarding Newsstand beyond monthly subscriptions. I’ll certainly not be taking out another annual one until Apple confirms one way or another what the state of play is. If Apple PR responds to my email, I’ll update this article accordingly.

July 23, 2013. Read more in: Apple, Magazines


Tap! magazine: so long and thanks for all the fish

It was September or October 2010 when I got a call from Christopher Phin. I’m not sure where he was, but it was very loud and I couldn’t make out much of what he was saying. Still, I did manage to hear something about “iPhone” and “magazine” and “Would you like to edit the games section?”.

A couple of weeks later, I popped over to Bath (home of Future Publishing HQ), we bashed heads, and we set about crafting that part of the magazine. I was very keen to ensure the games section covered big hitters but also indie software, and was entertaining and fun to read. I wanted to bring back some of the irreverence that I used to enjoy so much when reading games mags of old. Wonderfully, Christopher totally agreed—I recall many of our notes being almost identical—and off we went. Issue one arrived, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite so excited to receive a copy of a publication I’d worked on.

As the issues flew by, we fashioned a little team of fantastic games writers, and we really invested in everything we covered, spending far too many hours immersed in digital touchscreen-controlled worlds. Some of our reviews decidedly bucked the trend, but they were always honest. Often, they were also brilliant fun to read. Additionally, we got the chance to round up some of our favourites in our ‘if you loved…’ articles, which Apple’s just started doing itself on the App Store. It was so much fun.

If this all sounds like a memorial, that’s because it is. Tap! magazine is no more, and issue 32 (August 2013) is the final edition. Needless to say that I’m gutted, but also immensely proud of what the team managed to do. I’d therefore like to sincerely thank Christopher for giving me the opportunity on the mag, Matthew Bolton for his help and enthusiasm over many issues, and Christian Hall for being a brilliant editor when Christopher was installed as the new head honcho over at MacFormat. Also, thanks to Tom Harrod for making sure my words were in the right order, and also to everyone who contributed to the games pages. You were all fantastic, and I shall miss working with you so much.

So, here’s to you, Tap! You were brilliant. And if anyone out there’s thinking “man, we right now totally need some British guy who used to edit a games section to write about iOS games for us, at least if he can tear himself away from Impossible Road for five whole seconds,” drop me a line at


July 19, 2013. Read more in: Tap!


Dear the internet: yes, digital magazines do cost money to create

One of the UK’s Mac magazines, MacFormat, which I regularly write for, just unleashed its new digital version on the App Store. On the iPad, it uses the same underlying framework as the spiffy Tap! magazine, making for an entertaining and interactive experience. Hurrah! So, inevitably, people are already bitching about it on the App Store. Here are two choice one-star reviews:

4.99 for a digital version? They are pricing themselves out of the digital magazine market! I have contacted them personally about the pricing structure before. However they have not replied and seemingly not interested in what I have to say.

Gosh, I wonder why?

No paper cost, No press cost, No postage cost and it is £44.99
If I subscribe the magazine version I get the magazine and the downloadable pdf to read on any computing device including iPad, now tel me why digital iPad version is so pricy. Yo must think Whether you are too cleaver or iPad users are so stupid.

Yeah, those MacFormat guys think they are far too ‘cleaver’ for us mere mortals, taking our cash and rolling around naked on £50 notes, laughing maniacally. Or perhaps, just perhaps, digital magazines actually cost money to produce too? Maybe, when it comes down to it, paper/printing/mailing isn’t actually such a massive chunk of production costs as wages, paid to the people that plan, write and edit each edition? Just possibly, there’s the teeny tiny issue of interactive content (videos, touch interfaces, ‘3D’ photography elements) actually taking time and therefore costing money to create? And, clearly, being a quid cheaper for a single issue than on the newsstand (or two-quid if you take out the rolling one-month subscription) is just wrong, too. At the very most, the magazine should obviously be free, because it’s created by magic editorial elves, who don’t need to eat and pay their mortgages. Really, MacFormat should be paying us a crisp tenner every time we download an issue, because, man, we paid for this expensive iPad hardware and, DAMMIT, we are entitled! We deserve free things! We don’t understand how magazines work and that people need to be paid! And so on!

Also, just to prove they’re entirely evil, MacFormat’s also gone half-price for a short period of time, giving you single issues for £2.49 and a year’s subscription for £24. Those utter, utter bastards.

UPDATE: I’m informed by MacFormat’s production editor that the half-price offer only relates to the current issue, which is £1.49 instead of £2.99. The £24 subscription—that’s a permanent deal, but wasn’t reflected in App Store details when the new issue went live.  Naturally, some people are still complaining that figure’s too high.

July 18, 2012. Read more in: MacFormat


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