I do almost all my reading on a screen these days, and rarely have the time to switch off and consume paper.
The very best I can do is to quickly flick through the local freebie newspaper, which one of Rupert Murdoch’s minions flings vaguely near my house every week. (Cleverly, they think to put it in a plastic bag if it’s forecast to rain).
When recently buying a magazine for my daughter, though (she chose Peppa Pig Magazine because it had a plastic toy on the front), my eye was drawn to The Forecast 2017 by Monocle. It looked vaguely interesting — a thick, perfect-bound thing. I’d just done an interview for their radio station, and unusually they’d paid a fee, so I felt warm and fuzzy towards them and spent most of my fee on their product.
It was a mistaken purchase, really. I didn’t have the time to read it. It sat, beseeching me to open it, on the coffee table and then, after it was cleared in a tidying spree by my partner, on the Pile Of Pieces Of Paper on my desk.
And today, in an 8-hour flight from Brisbane to Singapore, I actually got to reading it.
It’s wonderful. It is a collection of very short articles (web-page length articles), covering all kinds of things. The writing is accessible but intelligent. It’s marvellous.
Really unusually for a magazine, it’s made with lots of different grades of paper. Photo essays are printed on bleached, shiny paper. Shorter articles are on thicker, unbleached, rough-feeling paper. Advertiser-funded sections (there was one on Wales) are on different paper still, cut slightly smaller to effortlessly signal to the reader where the advertorial starts and finishes. A short section of opinion pieces were on, again, another paper stock. It’s printed in a strange, non-standard size, that makes it almost approach an over-size book.
It’s the first magazine I’ve had that comes with its own bookmark (it’s 210 pages). The first I’ve had where the very act of turning a page is a wonderfully tactile experience — where you can actually feel where a new section starts as well as see it.
It’s the first where I’ve read the words on the page and not just skimmed it — possibly because the layout is interesting but not over-fussy, and because I’m a sucker for a good typeface. Each article has been interesting without being elitist. Much has given me pause for thought.
And, to be frank, it’s the first magazine with a £10 pricetag (or, worse, AUD$19.99). For a magazine?!!! Worth every penny.
It’s such a wonderful experience, I plan to buy a copy of the proper Monocle magazine on the way back. A quick feel of it in the newsagent leads me to believe it’s crafted in exactly the same way.
I enjoy the experience of reading, say, The Economist: but that’s based on the writing, and not the horrid cheap slidy-shiny thin crappy paper it’s printed on. I picked up a (free) copy of the international edition of the New York Times: it languishes in my bag, after I tried to read this oversized broadsheet newspaper in an economy airline seat and decided that it was much more hassle than it was worth.
Monocle’s publishers appear to have understood that the very act of reading a magazine is also a tactile experience to be savoured: and that is something that has quite taken me by surprise.
Content, selling itself with an exemplary user-experience? Whatever next?