Thursday, September 27, 2012

New seminar topics (Mo Oct 1)

There might be some overlap with previously formulated topics - the same ideas can pop up again but in a slightly different form and from a slightly different angle. In fact, some of the most popular ideas from last week make an appearance again - you have a second chance to choose them. Do note that only topics that someone actually work on in the two seminars will make it to the shortlist of candidates for project groups. Your choice to work on a particular topic during the seminar is also a nomination of that topic!

Do note that these topics are only to be seen as starting points - you can develop, change and bend them in the direction you think is most interesting.

1. Upping the revenue from digital channels
We have heard that going from print to digital is like changing dollars (print advertising revenue) to cents (digital advertising revenue). How publishers change digital cents into dimes (10¢) or quarters (25¢)? What are people willing to pay for? How much advertising compared to editorial content are people willing to put up with if advertising has to take up the slack from absent revenue from consumers? Are there other incomes to be made in digital channels? Can magazines have sponsors (like old American TV shows)? Is it possible to charge people (a little) for forwarding or showing their friends what to read?

2. The future of paid digital content
Some newspapers (Financial Times, New York Times) and news services (Bloomberg) successfully sells their digital content to readers. What can be learned from these "market leaders"? Who pays today and what are they prepared to pay for? What are the implications for tomorrow? Is it/will it be possible to charge (more) per article, per issue or for a digital subscription?

3. How Apple stumbled
Kristina S M talked about Apple's and Amazon's "ecosystems" combining technologies and business models to satisfy user needs and the consumer quest convenience. Earlier speakers have expressed discontent with the monopolistic dominance of Apple's magazine and publishing platforms (iPad, Apple Store etc.) and the subsequent shift in power towards Apple and away from content (magazine) publishers. Deconstruct the Apple (and/or Amazon) digital ecosystem and imagine and describe the ascent of a (future) competitor to Apple and its role for the future of magazines.

4. The future of reliability and accountability
If there is 1) less money in print and in magazines in general and 2) more (free amateur-generated) content than ever on the Internet, that seems to be bad news for the future of journalists. But what are the limits of amateur, user-generated, crowd-sourced media? Can amateurs (collectively?) perform investigative journalism or will the slow demise of print and magazines also have negative consequences for freedom of expression, transparency, accountability and democracy? What is the the future of reliability and truthfulness when Internet sources regularly publish information (too) quickly that is wrong or false.

5. The future of content/in-depth, lean-back reading
Kristina S M talked about "breaking news" moving from magazines to the web (e.g. the latest news about gadgets, computer games etc.), while other kinds of stories and other kinds of reading are better suited to magazines; in-depth, lean-back, slow-pace analysis or attractive spreads (images, fonts, design). What content will (still) be found in (paper/digital) magazines? What experiences (kinds of reading) will we still look for in magazines in the future (perhaps in relation to our daily and weekly rhythms and/or life situation)? What are the different futures for different kinds of magazines/content?

6. Slow reading, deep reading
Is there space for a protest movement against sped-up, cut-up content vying for our attention on the Internet and in digital media? The slow food movement was started 25 years ago. If there now is a more general slow movement (slow money, slow parenting, slow traveling, slow fashion, slow science), is there not also space for slow reading (= deep reading, reflections and deep understanding?)? Would not magazines (and books) have a privileged position in a slow media movement - forming as a protest against the acceleration of news and the disruption of focus and attention. A daily ritual of magazine reading as a detox from the hurried pace of life in the 21st century?

7. The future of subscriptions
Magazine are sold and financed in a variety of different ways, but subscription numbers slowly decline every year. But exactly why do subscriptions decline - and could that change? What is the future of subscriptions, both on paper and in digital channels?

8. A future without publishers?
What if magazines (or long texts) will survive or even thrive in the future, but magazine publishers won't? What if there is less money in publishing, but still enough for journalists (but not large corporations) to get by? By all means read Shirky's text on the collapse of complex business models again. With readers being able to choose magazines from all over the world, perhaps we'll move to a winner-takes-it-all situation with bigger but fewer global or regional publishers? If 80% of the attention (time, money) goes to 20% of the magazines, will these figures be even more skewed (90/10%) in the future?

9. Journalist-reader synergies
Will specific journalists (like a favorite of mine - Michael Lewis) market themselves to increase their recognition and get a fan base of people who are willing to put up money to support the journalist (crowdsource/donations)? People would thus follow journalists, rather than topics or specific magazines. Or perhaps a journalist publishes an article and follows up comments and leads from his many and cooperative reader-fans? Journalist-author Gillmor describes just such a process in his book "We the media: Grassroots journalism by the people for the people". Can readers be included in the process of creating (the) articles (they want to read)?

10. The economy of user-generated content
It's hard for journalists and magazines to compete with "free", i.e. the price point of hobby bloggers (who might be dedicated experts in their narrow fields). But what is the "currency" that gets this army of content providers to write new texts for free - since it isn't money? What motivates non-salaried content providers to provide content day in and day out? Could this be the key to understanding the future of magazines and the future of texts on the Internet? Do non-salaried content providers eventually "burn out", or is it a sustainable model for producing content?

11. The editor-as-king
The problem with an audience of one is that everyone has to be his or her own editor! Is there not a huge value in having a specialist with in-depth knowledge about an area that produces and chooses  stuff you didn't even know you were interested in? What is the future of editors and the editorial function in a world that is moving towards digital channels and the chaotic structure (non-structure?) of the web? Authentic student quote: "Sometimes it is nice to have someone collect the articles and the information for you".

12. The editor-as-scavenger
...or could an editor become the title of someone who just sifts through all the free material out there on the Internet to whip together a "magazine" from a mix of webpages, articles and blog posts? Instead of hiring authors who create original content, why not hire "editors" who scavenges the Internet in search for interesting material?

13. Tabloid supplements
Paper isn't dead - Kristina S M told us that evening tabloid supplements ("magazines") earn the (Swedish) evening newspaper a sh*tload of money and are printed at a rate of more than one/day. What is the future of magazines in the form of (paper) supplements?

14. Non-text magazines
Do magazines of the future have to mean static paper or text-based reading on a computer screen? How about "video magazines" (see with short 3-minute videos introducing people, shops, trends etc. Would it be possible to develop video magazines in fields such as economy or politics? Perhaps the videos link to further (text) material? Could it be possible to create "podcast/audio magazines"?

15. A magazine for all senses
Three senses can be stimulated by paper, but not by digital media (computer, tablet or smartphone screens); taste, smell and touch. It is also possible to distribute (small) physical objects in a paper magazine. How could extravagant magazines capitalize on this with samples of materials and fabrics (fashion magazines), smell or taste (cooking magazines), small in deodorant ads, seeds (garden magazines) or a joint (High times)?

16. Losing our collective memory
A certain number of copies of magazines and books must be sent to a few select libraries (like the Royal Library) according to Swedish law for archival purposes. What will happen to our archives and libraries when we switch from print to digital channels? Are we loosing our collective memory? What will future generations be able to know about our time and our lives? What does the law state and what strategies do university libraries adopt to save the present on behalf of the future?

17. Social recommendations
Would it be possible to create a magazine that dynamically polls different people so that you get to read what your friends seem to be reading at the moment, what famous people read right now (starlets or members of the Swedish academy), the most popular articles right now, the fastest rising articles etc.? Think of different recommendation systems (Amazon: "people who like this book has also bought the following books:").

18. Event-magazines
What if there is no economy in doing magazines for their own sake, but magazines are rather produced as means to reach other ends such as to get people to go to a concert, an art installation/exhibition or some kind of event or conference?

19. The future of collecting
What is the future of collecting and collections? Authentic student quote: "I used to collect my past PC gamer magazines, I have over ten years' worth of magazines and sometimes it was fun to go back and read some old articles again". What need does collecting (must have all magazines!) satisfy and what is the future of collecting? A must-do for a group formed around this topic is to interview collectors. And what about scrapbooking, and tearing out an article from a magazine to save it? Why do we do those things and how can we continue to fulfill the same needs when magazines go digital?

20 Hybrid magazines
Is there a space for paper magazines with digital features/multimedia/augmented reality content that works together with a smartphone (QR codes, RFID chips etc.)? 

21. E-reader magazines
Kristina S M reminded us that e-readers (Amazon, Sony etc.) are a viable alternative to tablets and have many advantages (print quality, costs, battery, environmental impact etc.). So what are the challenges and possibilities for a future of digital magazines based on an e-reader platform?

22. Usability issues
An in-depth examination of usability issues in print and different digital channels (tablets, e-readers, web). Portability, reliability, batteries, sunlight, image/font quality, searchability, "commentability" etc.

23. Magazines for avatars
Many tens and perhaps even hundreds of millions of people play online games (World of Warcraft etc.). Is there a niche for publishing magazines for avatars in the games? See for example Ludlow and Wallace's "The Second Life Herald: The Virtual Tabloid that Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse".


Popular topics during the previous seminar (but which no group chose to work with last week and thus not on the shortlist for candidates for project group yet):

24. Magazines and identity
We subscribe to and read magazines not just for the content, but also as identity markers. I'm the kind of person who reads X, I'm the kind of person who have magazines X, Y and Z on my coffee table (to impress, so that people can appreciate my exquisite taste, to indicate topics I like to discuss etc.). And it's not just the covers, it's also the contents; I'm the kind of person who is updated on futuristic implications of technology (because I read Wired magazine) or about this autumn's fashion (because I read Elle magazine) or about the next version of iPad (because I read Macworld). Magazines say something about who you are - or about who you want to be. How can this function be incorporated into tablet and digital channels?

·      25. An audience of one. 
Nifty apps like Pocket, Instapaper, Flipboard in combination with services like Reddit, Buzzfeed, discussion forums and social media platforms make it possible to earmark and later integrate and present texts that come from a variety of different sources into a nicely formatted, advertisement-free experience on your smartphone. Is the future of the magazine an infinitely personalized and customized magazine that is different for each (brands and magazine titles are replaced by My Magazine)? What are the implications for…XXX. Or could a publisher potentially have all the information about user/reader behavior and be able to customize and sell a magazine to you and the masses? 

·      26. The changing function of magazines
Ulrika Facht suggested that media can have different functions; information vs amusement & distraction and basic use (daily routines) vs additional use (individual choices). This resulted in four different functions; “Coverage”, “Relaxation”, “Entertainment” and “Specialization”. What is the function of (different) magazines? How has and how will digitization change the functions of texts in general and magazines/magazine texts in particular?

So-so in popularity during the previous seminar

27. Free magazines (content marketing/sponsor magazines)
Content marketing (magazines issues by non-media companies, "customer magazines" etc.) is the future (Olle Lidbom), but Kerstin Neld preferred the term "sponsor magazines". Part advertising (also in terms of the editorial content) and free of charge. High quality pictures and stories, to be picked up on trains and airplanes or given away together with a newspaper, or sent home because your address is in some database and you have been identified as belonging to a specific (perhaps narrow) target group.

28. The limits of advertising
Are there limits where the possibilities of advertising on digital platforms in order to target even smaller niches or customize messages to an audience of one (you) becomes distasteful or disturbing to readers? Is the border where "useful" become "creepy" and where being catered to and being stalked is crossed? Are there signs of a "revolt", and what is the future of advertising in a world where increasing numbers of people want to opt out of being surveilled and sold to as people get more and more suspicion and reluctant to share information about themselves.

·      29. The future of long texts (“long form”). 
Magazines articles can be more and can go deeper than newspaper articles. But perhaps these texts won’t be packaged inside magazines, but rather consumed in some other form/format in the future? Good articles come from writers, not from magazines! Therefore in the future…

·      30. Reading patterns of the future
Physical magazines can form strong bonds with their readers; readers can wait for, long for, read (perhaps from cover to cover), cherish and save physical magazines. But digital magazines are for the most part downloaded, read (perhaps) and erased. Or even if not erased, for the most part invisible to yourself and to others. So what are the “reader habits beyond reading” in the future? What about serendipity and the editorial function? What about reading front-to-back and page-by-page or leafing through and reading randomly and spontaneously? What about picking up and leafing through an old issues (from you collection of print magazines)? Authentic student quote: "reading older magazines are a fantastic way to look back at how the world has changed over time".

·      31. The future of social editing
Olle Lidbom described how texts are being written and edited not for fitting into a newspaper or a magazine, but for being shared on social media platforms. Editing texts for being shared on Facebook to drive traffic in order to… (please fill in the blank). Would it be possible to read articles for free but in some way micro-charge when people share stuff instead?


  1. These are some awesome topics, but there's a ton of overlap. I feel like a lot of these topics are extremely similar and could be condensed down to 12 solid topics. I'm having trouble splitting my votes.

    Also, number 12 reminds me a lot of Next Draft ( His idea is that personally curated (as opposed to socially or algorithmic) news has a place in the future. From reading his newsletters I'd have to agree.

  2. Perhaps. But you can actually go back and re-cast your vote when you see what other people have voted for. However, see it more as a way to sort your preferences before the seminar tomorrow. If there is a chance for a seminar group to be formed around a topic X, and you voted for topic almost-X, just go for it. As for the project, it is totally ok to "merge" your chosen topic with other similar, not-taken topics from (for example) the list above.

    But I do agree it might have been better to merge a couple of topics, but that takes a lot of though. Perhaps two topics can be merged, but perhaps again they really are slightly different. So you vote today and you choose groups tomorrow - instead of me doing all the thinking and me making all the decisions.

    Me, I also like the fact that so many ideas have been generated - especially taking into account that many people saw the theme of magazines as limited.

    Best of luck!