A View from Jason Pontin
The Meaning of Our New Designs
Technology Review looks prettier–but new looks express a new strategy.
If you are a subscriber to Technology Review, reading this column in a printed or digital issue, perhaps you’ve noticed that the magazine looks a little different. If you’re a regular visitor to TechnologyReview.com reading these words there, you know that the website looks very different. And if you’re reading this on a tablet like the Apple iPad or a smart phone like a Google Android device, welcome–you are, in the jargon of the consumer technology business, an “early adopter” of one of our new publishing platforms.
Editors place great emphasis on the design of their publications, and the columns they write about redesigns are among the most boring and self-indulgent forms of journalism. Suffice it to say, we’ll be happy if you find our magazine and website prettier and easier to use, and if you like to read us on mobile machines. We had good advice. We hired Roger Black, probably the world’s most famous publication designer (he has been responsible for the look of magazines as various as Rolling Stone, the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, the New Republic, Fast Company, Reader’s Digest, Foreign Affairs, and Esquire, and also of websites such as Bloomberg.com and the Houston Chronicle’s Chron.com). I think we succeeded in our goals. But write and tell me what you like and what you think doesn’t work at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don’t tell me, I’ll never know. I promise to write back.
It’s more interesting to think about our redesign as a form of institutional psychotherapy: it provided us with the opportunity to reëxamine how we publish our journalism. The new designs are the formalization of a strategy I announced in a column (and elaborated upon in a blog posting), “How to Save Media,” in May 2009. Part of that strategy was to expand our number of publishing platforms to include tablets and smart phones. If you’ve not tried reading Technology Review on one of these electronic devices, do: I am sure you’ll like it.
We wanted to publish the different kinds of journalism we create on as many platforms as made economic sense, but it was even more important that we should follow a consistent pricing strategy across all those platforms. Last May I wrote: “Content that some readers pay for in one medium (now, usually print) should never be offered without charge to other readers in another medium (usually electronic). Instead, publishers should distribute editorial to their subscribers on a variety of platforms. This is not to say that much content should not be freely available to readers and paid for by advertising revenues.”
For Technology Review, this means that our daily news stories and blog posts–about 80 percent of the editorial we create–can be read free on all our electronic platforms. That’s been so since we started publishing daily news and opinion, and it won’t change. But starting with this November/December issue, readers on the Web must pay to read the longer magazine stories we publish less frequently, stories that subscribers to our print and digital publications have always paid to read.
You can purchase a subscription to the print or digital magazine; the latter you can read either in a Web browser or on a tablet or smart phone. All subscribers have access to current and archived magazine stories on the Web. Readers who do not care to pay for a subscription can purchase individual magazine stories or packages of stories on all our electronic platforms. On the Web, readers who don’t know if they want to subscribe will be given three free magazine stories–a kind of metered journalism.
There are other changes for Technology Review. This fall we’ve launched a new online publication, called Business Impact. Its editor, Evan I. Schwartz, who has written for BusinessWeek and other publications, describes it thus: “The name Business Impact suggests our wider mission. We’re broadening our coverage of innovation by following technology beyond the labs into your hands–to the point of impact, where an innovation can become a strategic tool for transforming a company, disrupting a market, or creating an entirely new industry.”
Every month, in daily stories, Business Impact will examine a different topic. The first month, we analyzed digital marketing; in November, we explore the mobile enterprise, and in December, predictive modeling. Business Impact has a novel mode of business. Schwartz explains, “The daily content is free. But at the end of the month, the entire month’s stories will be gathered up and designed and packaged as a premium digital publication that will be sold for a fee thereafter.”
Last year, in my prescription for saving media, I wrote with pardonably heightened feeling: “Things change or die, including once-cherished organizations. Today’s newspapers and magazines will be transformed or replaced by other publications, which will have new modes of business.” Technology Review’s new designs, and the publishing strategies they express, are our best effort at excellence in our business. They thus represent our best hopes for survival.