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Friday, January 18, 2013

Test Run: Maura Magazine, an iPad Mini-Mag

Something interesting is happening in the world of iPad publishing.

The first entrants to the market â€" big, weighty, flashy things â€" are no longer the most interesting, at least not to me. It’s not that they aren’t still beautifully designed or useful. It’s that my reading habits have changed. After the initial honeymoon, I found myself with less and less time for the iPad. It’s not as mobile as I would like â€" I’m constantly worrying about dropping it or cracking it on a subway pole â€" so I tend to use my iPhone in the mornings for news and my Kindle in the evenings to read the latest pick from Emily Books, my e-book club, and the longer articles I’ve saved to it during the day.

When I do have time to sit back with my iPad â€" mostly on the weekends â€" I don’t want that time, leisure time, to mirror the frenetic reading pace of the week, a hectic verload of links from Twitter and pictures from Instagram, however artfully arranged through an app like Flipboard. I want to be immersed in a reading experience, one that isn’t fussy and just shows me a few in-depth, thoughtful, well-written and interesting pieces.

Enter the iPad mini-magazine.

These outlets are emblematic of what Craig Mod calls “subcompact publishing.” I like the way he describes The Magazine, the new mobile publishing venture led by Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper. “It felt like a platonic mobile-publishing container. No cruft, all substance. A shadow on the wall,” he writes. “The kind of app that’s doing nothing fancy but everything right. The kind of app deemed anathema by Future Publishing Authorities because, quite frankly, it’s boring.”

The most recent such publication I’ve downloaded is Maura Magazine, the new venture by Maura Johnston, a music writer, in collaboration with 29th Street Publishing, which also created a mobile application for The Awl, a blog. Maura Magazine costs 99 cents per issue, or $3 a month. Die-hards can pay $30 upfront for a yearlong subscription. So far, I’m into it. The first issue includes a closer look at the film “9 to 5″ and an account of living without electricity in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, among other pieces.

For me the appeal of these apps is something like the appeal of zines. Of course, these are solidly digital, but something about them still feels tangible, slightly more handmade, like a human carefully, lovingly, put them together.

There are stilla host of questions to be answered about these mini-magazines. Are they viable and sustainable businesses over the long run Can each publication tap into a large enough audience to support the economics of the model Will the content remain interesting enough to hold readers’ attention And how many mini-mag apps can one subscribe to before burning out

All that can come later. But for now, it’s enough to see smart and savvy writers and thinkers experimenting with new formats.