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On The Seventh Art In The Age Of The Digital.

Surveying The Digital [Film Magazine] Landscape

Last week Sight & Sound magazine went digital.

In the constantly evolving world of film criticism It’s important for their to be marked and definitive statements laid down. A publication counts for something. It can be held to account. It’s there forever, unlike the temporary nature of the internet which can be deleted at the stroke of a key, or adapted to suit the shifting whims of the author. Journals and magazines are important.

To mark the launch of Sight & Sound’s digital iteration we thought it worth taking a look at the publications that have migrated to the digital medium, and examine the ways in which they might be pushing the boundaries or challenging the medium of the magazine form, both in it’s tradition paper form and in this most recent iteration.

We question which is ultimately the most attractive manner in which to present and consume media: while the simplicity of Film Comment may not shine next to the technical ambition of a publication like Empire one might appreciate further the more functional approach once the exciting of the new wares off. We also take in to account the independent likes of Jeff Goldsmith’s Backstory Magazine, a new publication that likely wouldn’t exist outside of the realms of those made affordable by the digital revolution.

With Sight & Sound coming on board we’re now in the position whereby Cineaste is the last remaining holdout. That most analogue of mediums has finally gone digital and the future is looking very exciting. While one can dream of a day where international publications written in a foreign pen will one day be available with automatic translation and all manner of other electronic goodness, the current English speaking market is fairly well served*.

Film Comment – The best film magazine in the world, and the one that the digital edition benefits those of us in the UK the most. Gone is the waiting for the latest issue to reach these shores, weeks after the US release. Film Comment have adopted one of the more simple approaches when it comes to presenting the magazine digitally. Essentially a glorified PDF, albeit one that is searchable and zoomable, and contains web links, it’s uncomplicated and pleasant. There’s little distraction (some digital magazines are simply overwhelming), while any extra features place accessibility front and centre, with the most impressive addition being the Text isolating feature that simplifies the page in to one focussing on a sole article. Check out an example of that feature here, in which we’ve highlighted a review of Chantal Akerman’s Almayer’s Foley.

Film Comment is delivered via the Zinio platform, which means that it can be viewed on and downloaded to all manner of digital devices, from iPad’s and iPhones, to computers and Android devices. Check out the inside of Film, complete with Zinio navigational frame by clicking here.

Sight & SoundThe digital edition of Sight & Sound offers much the same benefit to those in the US that the digi-iteration of Film Comment offers those of us in the UK in that it’s easily accessible day and date with the print edition in the country of its origin. Appropriately enough the launch of the digital edition of Sight & Sound coincides with the magazine’s first redesign in several years, and one would safe assume that said redesign took the digital medium in to account. Again accessibility is at the fore, with Sight & Sound, like Film Comment, presented in a PDF-esque fashion, although there are web-enabled videos incorporated. 

One big frustration is the inability to remove the navigational frame from around the magazine, diminishing the amount of screen space available for viewing the magazine on, although these are the sort of things that one would expect to be ironed out with time. 

Even more exciting is the fact that Sight & Sound have offered their entire 80 year history for digital perusal, inclusive of the complete Monthly Film Bulletin archive (albeit for £20 extra per annum). Currently the complete archive is PC only (no iPad, or iPhone for now, although 2 years worth of back issues *are*), but here’s hoping that changes as the market develops. Check out the inside of Sight & Sound by clicking here.

Cinema Scope – Canada’s foremost film magazine is, like Film Comment, available through Zinio. The same viewfinder and features (text isolation etc) can all be found. Again, finding physical copies of Cinema Scope has never been particularly easy outside of well-stocked independent cinemas, so this is a welcome addition. Check out the inside of Cinema Scope by clicking here.

Empire Magazine - The king of the mainstream British film magazines is also something of a pioneer when it comes to pushing the medium forwards. They were the first to create an iPad-enhanced edition, which involves all manner of multimedia elements and fancy gimmicks. Animated covers, scrollable stills and embedded trailers fill the pages of Empire, and it all runs fairly seamlessly (although file sizes, especially on the Retina iPad can be huge**). One major minus is Empire’s unwillingnes/inability to provide a free copy of the digital magazine to subscribers of the print edition. From what we gather taxation is in an odd place regarding digital publications: magazines published on paper have always been VAT exempt, whereas that isn’t the case for digitally delivered ones. That Sight & Sound can manage it, as well as other industry heavyweights such as Wired seems to be sending out a mixed message, here’s hoping Empire manage to sort whatever it is that’s holding them back out soon. Check out the inside of Empire Magazine by clicking here.

Total Film - While the content might be lacking with Empire’s little brother, Total Film have done some very interesting things with the iPad medium. Taking note from Empire Total Film also charge regular subscribers for the digital iteration, and while it’s arguable whether or not it offers anything that Empire doesn’t, it remains an attractive (literally, if not content-wise) mainstream alternative. Total Film is available in two iterations. The first is an iPad-enhanced version, complete with extra bells and whistles, while the second is via Zinio, which is much more basic but can be read on non-Apple devices. Check out the inside of Total Film by clicking here.

Backstory Magazine – Jeff Goldsmith is a veteran of the print journalism circuit, probably best known for his The Q&A With Jeff Goldsmith podcast. Earlier this year saw the launch of Backstory, which combines cult and populist writings to great effect. Backstory is really well designed, playing to (and with) the strengths of the iPad medium to its fullest, and features a solid roster of talent within it’s ranks. Whats more, it opens with the script page from Citizen Kane’s “Declaration Of Principles”, instantly marking it out as a knowing, well-informed publication from the off. Check out the inside of Backstory by clicking here.

* We’ve specifically only featured magazines with an iPad edition. Some outlets (Little White Lies for one) do have a digital archive, but it’s not viewable on portable devices.

** We can’t underestimate just how much of a deal-breaker this can be: single issues can push 1GB, which is both a large chunk of space on an iPad, and can take upwards of an hour to download. There’s no background downloading either, which is a real pain. To put the file size in to perspective, five issues of Sight & Sound take up 199MB of space, while one issue of Empire comes in at 943mb. Somewhat appropriately Total Film isn’t far behind.

2 Comments

  1. This is a great feature. Just subscribed to Film Comment and Cinemas Scope because of this article. Thank you.

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