The Association of Magazine Media

Disruption Through Simplicity in Digital Magazines

An essay penned by MacDowell Writing Fellow and former Flipboard staffer Craig Mod titled "Subcompact Publishing," on the subject of Marco Arment's iOS pub The Magazine, turns into a step-by-step guide for simple, manageable and engaging digital magazine editions.

The premise is simple, but radical (to some): Digital publishing is currently over-complicated, filled with distracting user interface paradigms that often attempt to clumsily mimic users' interaction with print, burdened with confusing pricing models, and built on systems which are a mish-mosh of often conterproductive workflows.

Mod outlines his thesis: "I propose Subcompact Publishing tools and editorial ethos begin (but not end) with the following qualities:

  • Small issue sizes (3-7 articles / issue)
  • Small file sizes
  • Digital-aware subscription prices
  • Fluid publishing schedule
  • Scroll (don’t paginate)
  • Clear navigation
  • HTML(ish) based
  • Touching the open web

Many of these qualities play off one another."

The essay is a fascinating and often spot-on read, which is quickly making the rounds in the software, design and user experience circles. It's likely to hit the mainstream in the next day or two and it will be interesting to see if there are official, or unoffical responses from major publishers.

Those of us who come from a user-centric, software background have discussed these points at length since the rise of viable digital magazine platform devices, like the iPhone and iPad. For those of us who now sit inside the publishing business (albeit, still in the software space), we see this as a transitional time where magazines will continue to experiment and refine their offerings as users provide feedback. Those with more radical views see an industry that's attempting to shoehorn a legacy business model into a new world that's not entirely comfortable with the experience.

What's your opinion? Is this a blueprint for the future, or a slap in the face of the magazine commmunity? Drop me a line at or hit me on Twitter @ethan_grey.


Ethan Grey is Vice President of Digital for the MPA


I think this essay perfectly combined what is and what should be when it comes to digital design. Even now, months after the essay was written, it continues to be relevant - and in this publishing world, months is a hell of a long time. Everyone who designs digital software should read and respect this essay, but don't be afraid to bend the rules. Just be sure to test the effectiveness of what you've implemented. Flat, minimal design is the future, and I can't stress that enough. Still, I feel like I'm preaching to the choir here. Look at magazines, and how they've evolved since their inception. Web and digital magazines have to go through the same transition. -Bryan