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Archive for the ‘magazines’ Category

If porn can still make money, there’s hope

In magazines, News on February 16, 2011 at 10:03 am

Pornography, if you believe the media theorists, have been leading the charge in innovation in media. It was the deciding factor between the VHS vs Beta war, the pioneer in creating anonymity on the Web and was one of the first successful business models on the Web. It comes to little wonder, then, that media watchers are looking to the porn industry in monetizing content that’s so easily shared. Or pirated, depending on your point of view.

To set a background at what the porn industry (damn, I’m going to get so much bot-spam for this post) is facing: A study by Envisional, on behalf of NBC Universal, revealed that pornography was the most shared content on BitTorrent at 35.8%, followed closely by movies at 35.2%. Read the rest of this entry »

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Magazines: Meh.

In magazines on February 10, 2011 at 4:52 pm

“I don’t want to work in the mag line again,” said one former mag editor whom I randomly bumped into in a cafe. Sadly, she’s not alone in her opinion — the sighs and groans of the magazine editor here are getting louder, and the skepticism seems part and parcel of most people who’ve worked the magazine line since the early 2000s.

Being a former magazine editor myself, I can’t blame them. The media landscape has shifted tremendously thanks to the Web, and the romance, magic, and influence of being the editor of your own goddamn magazine is fading away. When I’d just joined in the magazine line with KLue, the world of magazines were still mystical, the curtain that hides the Wizard still thick and opaque. A writer’s byline was tied in with a certain expectation of wit, controversy and prose. Read the rest of this entry »

Transplanting The Magazine To The Web

In magazines, Online on December 3, 2008 at 8:50 am

sleepingcomputer.jpgLast week’s big news was the announcement that starting Feb 2009, PC Magazine will go 100% digital, according to its Editor-in-Chief, Lance Ulanoff. Usually, the announcement of going 100% digital usually spells the death knell of any publication, but the move has been seen as taking a step forward.

“While we are energized by the endless possibilities of the digital format,” Lance Ulanoff writes, “I assure you that the decision to stop producing a hard-bound copy was not an easy one. But the reality is that the ever-growing expense of print and delivery was turning the creation of a physical product into an untenable business proposition.”

By going 100% digital, PC Mag will be publishing a regular format of a “magazine” as we know it, except that it won’t be printed on paper, but distributed electronically via Zinio, a digital magazine subscription service. You can try out a free issue of December’s PC Mag issue on Zinio here.

This is where things get a little testy for me. I was never a fan of transplanting the magazine experience directly onto the web; it comes from the same thinking that led to several publishers just dumping their PDF files online and expecting to look “web-compliant”. Read the rest of this entry »

Rediscovering The Art of Criticism from AA Gill

In magazines, Personal on November 22, 2008 at 6:47 pm

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When I first started out writing for KLue, I was always excited about doing movie reviews. It may seem like a throwaway assignment; who needs ’em when you got the RottenTomatoes gauge? In many publications, reviews can be seen as the pits–training grounds where rookies start off, because what can be more uncomplicated about giving a rundown and a verdict of good, okay, and two thumbs down to whatever the subject is? 

But if all reviews were boiled down to a number (or thumbs), there’d be no point to writing one anyway. From the way many reviews are written in local papers and magazines, you can feel the writer’s mind dragging on as he/she plods to the inevitable verdict. It’s an unenthusiastic formula, and when stretched to a full 1000-word essay, I can sympathise with readers who want to skip to the end. 

All too often, reviews are peppered with adjectives disguising themselves as opinions — the movie was “good, spectacular, awesome, chilling, thrilling, funny, etc.” In food reviews, the dish can be “homely, quaint, mediocre, excellent, pleasant, imaginative,” while the decor can be “homely, quaint, mediocre, excellent, pleasant, imaginative…” you get the idea. No wonder we’re desperate to reach the final line: It’s like looking to an upper-management executive for constructive feedback.   Read the rest of this entry »

Monocle: Print media’s rather clever black sheep

In magazines on June 26, 2008 at 4:21 pm

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I recently read a really interesting Mediabistro interview with Tyler Brule, the publishing Lothario behind Wallpaper and Monocle magazines.

Brule is a contrarian, and he’s smart about it. He seems to enjoy doing the exact opposite of conventional publishing wisdom with Monocle. It’s not so much about Monocle’s editorial direction – the writing, design or photos, which are all good. Brule’s shrewedness shows up in his business model.

A summary of key features:

Distribution: The mag is thinly but widely distributed internationally, with 24 distributors listed on its website and magazines shipped to 79 countries. Bruele says it has 5,000 paid subscriptions with a “dream” circulation of 200,000. Not high. The Economist’s circulation (probably the closest publication in terms of demographic targets) is 1.3 million a week.

Revenue structure: It costs more, not less, to buy a Monocle subscription. We are all familiar, thanks to those horrible little slips of paper stuck in magazine pages, that magazines always slash per-unit prices for subscriptions drastically, usually 50% or more. It costs US$10 an issue and US$150 for 12-issue subscription. Ballsy move. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ten Commandments of Magazine Editing

In magazines on May 17, 2008 at 8:28 am

I’ve been meaning to post up this gem of a link sent to me by Joon Ian about the rules of being a magazine editor. It’s not a complicated list, but it’s good to set these standards down on solid point form so that everyone can understand it clearly and succinctly.

An excerpt from Magtastic Blogsplosion (great name!)

Make a magazine for your readers

Not the PR people, not the advertisers, not the editor-in-chief.

Be true to your format

If you’re digital, be digital. Don’t try to be clickable, moving paper. If you’re paper, be paper. Don’t try to be a printout of the internet.

Be different from the competition

Being first to a story isn’t being different, different is being different.

Make sure your public can find you

Sell it, give it away, put it online. There’s nothing more frustrating – and more likely to die young – than a magazine I love but can never find.

Surprise and challenge your readers

Give the people what they want, then give them what they don’t know how to ask for.

Know what you don’t do

And then never do it. If you don’t know where the line is, it’s probably behind you.

Make every issue a collector’s issue

Passionate readers will keep their favourite copies on the bookshelf / next to the lavatory for years to come. Be that magazine.

Editors: learn to be visual. Designers: learn to love words

And then talk to each other.

The First Rule is golden: Always write for your reader–do they gain any information that’s beneficial to them? Will they learn anything new? If not, it’s fluff.

Of course, as with the Original Ten Commandments, they’re rules easier said than done, but they’re guidelines worth following nonetheless.

How Wired Keeps Relevant

In magazines on April 24, 2008 at 5:54 am

Being a geek, Wired magazine has consistently impressed me with its covers and the type of stories covered in it. In an age where everyone’s running scared of from the competition caused by the web, Wired is one of the few publications that has embraced change, integrating print and web, and using the web to popularize its brand name across the world.

This piece by Market Watch columnist Jon Friedman captures an essence to why Wired has been successful in keeping relevant to its audience–the key question that every publication needs to answer if it’s to survive the hostile world of change. Unlike other tech magazines, Wired has managed to stay on its original course by not focusing on technology, but “how technology is changing the world,” as Chris Anderson puts it.

Focusing on that goal keeps Wired open and relevant to matters regarding pop-culture, business trends, marketing, human-interest stories–everything that technology touches and affects, Wired covers it. It’s a mind-blowingly wide spectrum to choose from, but somehow Anderson has the nuance to pick and choose the right stories to cover–and that’s why he’s such a great editor.

From Market Watch:

Some pundits like to needle Wired Editor Chris Anderson about his image.

“His reputation is that he always has to be the smartest person in the room,” said Valleywag Managing Editor Owen Thomas. “And he usually is.”

I can understand why.

[…]

I especially like the way Wired always stresses originality and creativity, two increasingly hard-to-find qualities in publishing circles these days.

Many editors watch the competition closely and work in a defensive posture. Their primary motivation appears to be NOT missing a story. I wish they’d focus instead on consistently producing quality stuff — on any subject — and zigging when others are zagging. It’s all about serving the readers, and Anderson apparently feels the same way.

[…]

Wired’s image is also distinct among its sister brands at parent company Conde Nast, which publishes such titles as the New Yorker, Glamour and Portfolio.

“I can take the risks and fail in ways that our traditional brands can’t. Our customers will accommodate us,” Anderson said. “Are we the geeks of Conde Nast? Yes. Are we freaks? No.”

Serious magazine readers probably won’t strain too hard to find similarities between Wired and its role model of sorts, the Economist.

“I’m hugely influenced by the Economist’s model: big, relevant, fresh ideas,” said Anderson, who used to work there.

[…]

“You run the risk of going stale if you don’t change things.”

Anderson has been at Wired for seven years, but he is constantly evolving in his role. In 2006, Anderson wrote the well received book “The Long Tail,” which is based on one of his Wired stories on the Internet economy. “Free” will be his next book, focusing on the economics of why $0.00 is the future of business. It will be published next year.

GQ To Launch In India

In magazines, Uncategorized on April 13, 2008 at 6:34 am

Thought of skipping this story altogether, since, well it’s not as if we’re going to see this magazine here. But thought it’d be worth a mention since the Big Ed at GQ India is Sanjiv Bhattacharya, one of my favourite writers–he was part of my inspiration to join in the magazine business when I started reading his pieces 10 years ago, and now he’s Ed of GQ. Bastard.

From The Guardian:

GQ will launch in India later this year, following in the footsteps of its Condé Nast stablemate Vogue.

The upmarket men’s magazine will launch an Indian edition following the “overwhelming success” of Vogue India, said Jonathan Newhouse, the Condé Nast International chairman.

GQ India will mix international and Indian content. The new Condé Nast title will be edited by Sanjiv Bhattacharya, a former features and contributing editor of the British GQ.

Bhattacharya has worked in America for the past eight years and contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Marie Claire, the Daily Telegraph and the Observer, as well as completing a documentary for Channel 4.

The GQ Russia art director, Brendan Allthorpe, will become art director of GQ India, CJ Kurrien has been appointed senior editor and Iain Ball appointed features editor.

Nicholas Coleridge, the Condé Nast International vice-president, said: “Indian Vogue rapidly dominated the women’s magazine market, far surpassing expectations in both circulation and advertising. It has given us the confidence to start a second title, and GQ is the logical choice.”

All of his pieces are stunning–the ones I remember years after reading include ones on Kirsten Dunst and The Killers (click to read).

Proof That Magazine Revamps Do Work

In magazines on February 21, 2008 at 8:19 am

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(Esquire UK’s March Cover. w00t! More pics here)

Half-yearly figures of the latest magazine ABCs from the UK came out last week, and I’m glad to say that the men’s titles didn’t suffer as badly as the previous results. For one, the slide of FHM UK seems to be slowing down after reporting a 1.1% gain on the previous six months, although it is still suffering a 15.1% year-on-year circulation drop. The big result for me was the revamped Esquire UK, now under Jeremy Langmead, which reported a half-year circ figures that was up by 11.7% on the previous six months and 14% year on year.

The numbers may not be much, but it’s a ray of hope in a very bleak industry. Those who failed to keep being relevant to their readers, as media columnist Jon Friedman commented, are continuing to slip. This includes Maxim and Loaded. Read the rest of this entry »

The Long Rant: FHM Goes All Glamour–Will It Work?

In magazines on January 11, 2008 at 2:02 am

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Just picked this up from the Guardian that FHM is going the Glamour way by launching a more compact, “travel” edition of the magazine. It’s about 70% of the original size, following the footsteps of Glamour’s “Handbag”-sized format in order to recapture a fading lad’s mag market–FHM UK was down 16% in its latest ABC figures.

Rob Munro-Hall, the managing director of Emap’s Men’s Lifestyle and Music Magazine Brands, was quoted in the article as saying that it’s “yet another example of FHM leading and beating the rest of the men’s magazine market into a new arena.” I’m not so sure if such a gimmick would boost sales. I mean, one of the reasons why the smaller-format Glamour is so popular is because it fits into a handbag. Like, hello, where are your handbags, eh, lads? It doesn’t make much sense to me other than it being a gimmick to get noticed again on the shelves. Read the rest of this entry »

Magazines In A Perfect Bind

In magazines on December 28, 2007 at 9:50 am

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(Pic courtesy of cubemb at deviantart)

Among the depressing stories of the year has to be the growing disenchantment with magazines, and David Hepworth’s latest column in the Guardian pretty much sums it up: “I talked to a number of people at the helms of household-name titles who were watching their sales base erode and having to fight harder for advertising in what is becoming, for everyone but the phone company, a small-portions world.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. It was always thought that the magazine industry would be more robust than the newspapers because the latter was competing directly with the internet due to its speed of news delivery. But despite year-on-year profits in 2007 rising up by 5.6%, there’s a huge question mark about how sustainable magazines, new ones especially, are as a business. From my own observations, the internet has caused a cultural shift in the way we consume media: 1) Our attention span for the long-form article has been cut short (digital media is inherently made for those with ADD), and that 2) We want–hell, we expect–stories to be free, so who wants to shell out money for something they can get online? Read the rest of this entry »

Esquire Rocks My World

In magazines, Personal on December 2, 2007 at 5:49 pm

Well, after much dilly dallying and general procrastination, I’ve decided to start blogging again. Not sure if I’ll ever update it regularly, but hell, I’ll give it a shot and this time, I promise myself not to watch the number of hits I get like a obsessive compulsive sufferer (then again, it could be just me, but why is it that everytime I’m downloading something, I’m compelled to watch the percentage rising?!).

But I gotta say, getting on Twitter has aroused the blog bug in me again, and my new life as a PR man has certainly created this little vacuum in me that needs to write stuff other than contact reports, filling in RSVPs, speeches and news releases. Not that they’re boring in itself–cranking out a speech from thin air within the space of a few hours will give anyone a kick of the adrenaline. People keep asking me what’s it like to be on the “dark side” of journalism (more on that statement later on) and I’ll just say that PR certainly needs a person to be organised and have their priorities right, and get shit done before the sun sets.

Magazine life revolves around the same monthly deadlines, and I’ve kinda grown accustomed to the monthly cycle–the mad rush, 4am closing mornings, the 3pm sauntering in the following morning, the deadness of the week after closing. It’s different to have daily deadlines, send out invites and make loads of follow-up calls–kinda reminds me of the early days of KLue, when we used to work on fortnightly deadlines. It’s strange, I’ve often thought to myself, that at 28 I’m working in an environment where I feel like I’m 24 and working on my first job. And yes, the past week has been the absolute shitters–silly mistakes that I’ll chalk it down to inexperience, but I’ve survived my first month in PR with my pride relatively intact.

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Back to magazine news: last Friday, I stumbled onto a little shop in Centrepoint 1-Utama, and finally laid my eyes on the new Esquire UK, edited by Jeremy Langmead, who was poached from Wallpaper*. And what a work of genius it is–if you want further evidence of what a talented editor can do if he’s given free reign to salvage an ailing magazine, go no further than the new Esquire. They’ve taken a radical change, their covers harking back to the day when Playboy was at its peak in the 60s and 70s; clean stark covers, simple fonts, a sexy girl, and understated style. No shouting out “100 ways to please your woman!” or “12 Summer Sex Tips That Really Work!”.

It was enough for me to shell out RM32 to get the December issue, and the contents, I’m glad to say, reflects the image overhaul in getting back to the early Playboy era, and closer to what GQ is; roping in good writers, emphasizing on the journalism by laying it out in an almost newspaper-like format. Not unlike GQ, they’ve bunched inside their columnists in a section bordering the features, and the cool thing about it is that Mr. Langmead printed it on a rough grade of paper rather than the usual gloss paper–it’s certainly lends the magazine a gritty, tabloid feel. It’s magazines like these that make me ache to get back into the magazine world, and I’m rooting for Esquire UK to get back on track.

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Music to tune into: “Girls Who Play Guitars” by Maximo Park. Makes me think back to the days when all I wanted to do was open a pub and play the music the gang likes.

Premiere Magazine taken off print, goes online only

In magazines on March 8, 2007 at 7:33 am

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Gosh. Here’s another magazine that’s about to dump its print version and go fully online. This isn’t the first magazine to change its medium–FHM US and Elle Girl have both folded their print divisions to go fully online–but I’m still not fully convinced about ditching print media altogether. Unless there’s a feasible advertising model for the online magazine–a bane to every advertising agency considering using media in this manner is so misunderstood–I don’t think this is the way to find a bigger slice of the advertising pie. Taken from the New York Post:

March 5, 2007 — Hachette Filipacchi Media is shutting down the print edition of movie magazine Premiere.

The Post broke the news that the magazine was on the block on Feb. 5.

Yesterday, Hachette Filipacchi CEO Jack Kliger met with Editor-in-Chief Peter Herbst around 3 p.m. for what was said to be a meeting over the magazine’s latest cover. Instead, he got the bad news.

The company had conceded that it was “exploring strategic options” several weeks ago but was apparently unable to find a deep pocketed investor to keep the magazine afloat.

read more | digg story

123, ABCs, and the big losers are…

In magazines on February 23, 2007 at 1:13 pm

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I’ve decided to start blogging again in a desperate bid to revive a flagging blog so that I won’t be lumped into the category of “failed blogger”, which, when you come to think of it, is rock bottom as far as ambitions go, considering a good few million others have their own blogs. On the personal front, I’ve finally kicked off my column for KLue magazine, entitled “Borak” and in it I basically rant on about whatever’s being talked about during lunch/dinner/mamak. The first column was about the duplicitous nature of magazines (KLue 100) and the second one, due out in March, is about my love affair with Pop music, and a small dig at Hannah T’s rebranding effort as she enters the pop arena. Will post the unedited versions up in a couple of days.

In the meantime, what got me all hot and bothered again was the recent release of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures in the British mag industry, and the biggest losers turned out to be the lads’ mag category. FHM, the market leader, has every reason to press the panic button after seeing its circulation figures plummet a whopping 25.9% year on year to sell an average 371,263 copies each month. This, from a magazine that used to sell over 600,000 copies just barely a couple of years before. And turns out that Emap has pushed the panic button. Editor Ross Brown has been removed from his position after 10 years, to be replaced by Anthony Noguera. Arena, Emap’s high-end quality men’s mag, also suffered, dipping nearly 30%, and its editor was also sacked (or rather “reassigned to special projects”) .

Said Rob Munro-Hall, managing director of FHM, Zoo and Arena: “Emap continues to dominate the men’s lifestyle magazine market with the biggest and best portfolio on offer. FHM, Zoo and Arena are all successful multiplatform international brands, and primed for further growth given their unique understanding of their respective consumers and advertisers.” Which, when translated, basically means: LALALALLALALALALALALA.

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The fact that GQ and Men’s Health were one of the few rare ones to buck the trend (though in very small increments of 1%) tells me how, since the introduction of the internet as a significant part of the media diet, the media is fragmenting, and the type of content determines what magazines will succeed and which won’t. FHM has always pushed the edge when it comes to its pictures, and its no big secret that it has evolved into pornography. Tit counts are high, nudity is no longer a stranger on the cover, and you don’t have to peek through a lacy bra to see some nipple action. The problem is, though, that when it comes to porn, the internet beats the monkey crap out of magazines. Whereas FHM can only show pictures of nude women, which, on the internet, is soooo 2000, dahrling. Sex tapes are abundant on the ‘net, and nudity in movie format are legion. So who wants to stare at a picture when they can download all these Girls Gone Wild videos for free? What made FHM’s value depreciate further was its switch from focusing on celebrities to its “Girl Next Door” approach, which, although boosted lagging sales, has backfired on them because the prevalence of these amateur porn is exponentially even more on the ‘net than a Paris Hilton sex tape.

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So, really, this sorta juvenile, lads’ material won’t live for long in magazines. Men’s weeklies like Zoo and Nuts, once heralded as a genius product, have suffered catastrophic dips, and I don’t see it coming back because their content is not dissimilar from the porn you get while surfing. Hell, the rumours are rife that even Felix Dennis is planning to sell of Maxim, the leader of the men’s mag market in the US. If you want proof of how new media trumps over old media in the lad’s mag department, scoot on over to Dennis’s purely online magazine, Monkeymag–it’s pure genius, and it’s got the figures to back it up: the average number of Monkey’s weekly editions opened in January was 209,612, and steadily rising. It’s not hard to see why: it incorporates all the web can do that mags can’t–movies, youtube, cut-n-paste–and in doing so, gives the “readers” what they want: nude women in action. Guys don’t want to read about how hot Sienna Miller and Jamie King are in sex scenes. We wanna SEE.

So, which leads me back to why GQ and Men’s Health are still on course: it’s all about the type of content. Magazines, and print media, aren’t dead, and won’t die in my lifetime. And that’s because magazines hold an advantage over the ‘net in that you don’t have to start your friggin’ computer up to read an article, more so when it’s a long-assed, 3000-word feature that you’d feel more comfortable reading while lounging around in the sofa with a nice cuppa. That’s the type of quality journalism like GQ and Men’s Health does, and it suits the medium. Coupled that with high-class, glossy-mag photo shoots that aren’t pornographic and not easily available (or easily substituted by any other amateur porn), and hey, you’ve got a winner.

Like John C. Dvorak said on TWiT 88, print media can’t simply whine about how circulation figures are dropping and blaming it on the ‘net for the downfall of their mag/newspaper. They’ve got to up and change their game, improve on the content in which print media trumps over the web. That means giving the reader a more compelling reason to own a magazine in providing better journalism, better pictures, and less porn ‘n’ gossip that anyone can pick up on the ‘net. So yeah, that’s what my hunch for the mag biz is heading to in the next 5 years. It’ll be interesting to see how these two medias will adapt to each other.

So, you say you want to digitise your magazine?

In magazines on November 11, 2006 at 1:39 pm

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Here’s an interesting development in the magazine world taking on the new media world–skip the print and go directly digital. Jon Fine, a media columnist with BusinessWeek, picked up on the launch of Viv, “an independently published health-and-wellness play with certain New Age overtones aimed at women 35-plus.” Due to launch on December 1, Viv Mag is solely available through the Web, and viewable through Zinio Systems’ online reader.

Now, I know that there’s been a lot of talk surrounding the whole issue of traditional print media trying to embrace the web, but I don’t think this is the way. It’s a gutsy move, no doubt, as Fine put it: “The notion of doing an entirely digital magazine has been frequently discussed among the halls of major magazine publishers, but none have taken a leap like Viv. (Time Inc. did try the Web-only Office Pirates, but it was operated as a straight Web site and in any event died a fairly quick death.) I’d be telling a very big lie if I said Viv’s success was guaranteed, or even likely.

“But I can’t help but think this: I just returned from the American Magazine Conference, where a bunch of top execs once again made the argument of how magazines are embracing the Internet, oh yes, we truly get it now, whatever ‘it’ is. And yet it takes someone far outside from any big magazine company to try something that smacks of the next-generation magazine.”

It’s a gutsy leap of faith by Viv, but it doesn’t make sense. There’s no solid ground to land on when it arrives. I’ve always held firm by the argument that one media trying to integrate itself into another is doomed from the start. Print media, being traditional, doesn’t mean it’s outdated; it’s got merits that can’t be emulated by plonking your whole magazine onto the Web. “A woman’s magazine that you can’t flick, fondle or flaunt is no woman’s magazine at all,” writes David Hepworth in his column for Guardian (again. I know, I quote him often, but he’s an awesome columnist for MediaGuardian.)

And that’s the thing: you can’t feel a magazine on the web. You can’t take it to the bathroom with you, take it to the beach, to the cafe, slip it in your bag and read it on the train. There’s a sensual pleasure in a magazine, from the cover lamination, to the paper grammage, to the dog-earring the pages you want to catch up on. I can’t imagine booting up a computer just to read a magazine. Try it for yourself–The Fader has a completely free downloadable pdf file of its entire issue, and it’s a horrible experience reading 100 pages of it on the computer. Different forms of media, different purposes. I hope Viv does well, but I’m not hopeful.