November 27th, 2012
Craig Mod is excited by the possibilities of Subcompact Publishing:
In 1967 Honda unveiled the N360.
The N360 was a kei, or light style car; a subcompact.
I like to imagine the engineers at Honda huddled together, dumping the sum total of all car design and production technology on our worn, wooden table. Around they gathered and together they asked, "What's the simplest thing we can build with this?"
The N360 was something an American car company would never dream of producing. You can't blame them though: they had no incentive by which to dream such dreams. Unlike the American automotive industry, the Japanese automotive industry wasn't beholden to industry momentum or legacy. And when you're not beholden to legacy, you can be excessively brazen.
In the software industry we talk about MVPs, or Minimum Viable Products. The N360 was a Minimum Viable Car.
The N360 didn't make it to the States, but the followup – and near equally cute – N600 did. Next came the Honda Civic, then soon after, the oil crisis. We all know how the story goes from there.
Honda was a nobody in the car industry. But they gained foothold and marketshare by building a car that was more appropriate for many consumers. They had built a subcompact.
So I ask: where are our digital publishing subcompacts?
Mod spends a fair bit of time extolling the virtues of Marco Arment's The Magazine, which I wrote about back when it launched. I've maintained my subscription through the first four issues, but I have to admit that I'm wavering over whether to retain it. The application's virtues remain – it's a beautifully polished application, even if I'd like more control over the presentation of the content that it permits,1 but the content isn't that interesting to me.
In principle, an article extolling the virtues of a wet shave, or the proper way to make a cup of tea could be engaging and fun to read, even to a hirsute guy like me who would quench his thirst with a Diet Coke rather than brew a cup of tea every time; in practice I haven't found them to be so. I'm finding that on average there's one article per issue that I find moderately engaging. It doesn't help that some of the writers, whose work I've read on their own weblogs, are covering very familiar ground. Marco did say early on that he hoped to expand the pool of writers after the first few issues, so I'll probably give it another couple of issues to see if things improve.
Having said all that (and to get back to the ostensible topic of this post), there's no doubt in my mind that the basic model of Subcompact Publishing could well develop in all sorts of interesting ways, freeing up writers to write instead of having to code an application and submit it to someone's app store. It's just a shame that whatever tools people come up with will most likely end up being tied to a specific operating system/hardware type/payment mechanism.
Isn't this a problem the web was supposed to have solved by now?