Marco Arment's take on Newsstand: The Magazine

A surprising celebration of geek culture

When the creator of Instapaper Marco Arment dropped that he was preparing a new app, not many people could imagine he was jumping into publishing territory. In his Build and Analyze podcast he mentioned he wanted to keep it a secret until launch. Apart from the reading and bookmarking app you're familiar with, he had only released a small app designed for his own use with a particular icon so far.

After reading the first issue of The Magazine it all makes sense. Marco has been writing on his own blog and commenting on a variety of topics on his show for a growing audience. I only got to hear about the guy thanks to his 'Read it later' app and I guess others did as well. I can assume this must be a very specific audience with an interest in technology. Basically geeks.

By allowing people to curate their favourite articles to enjoy them later as simple text, Instapaper promotes long-form articles from their favourite writers an a relaxed reading style. What would happen if you reversed the model and sold a curated list in a non-traditional format?

Not so long ago, Instapaper included a section called 'The Feature' as the place to go once you are done with all your saved articles. This looks like the first step in curating content for an audience. I'm not certain whether these were chosen manually, but I get the feeling this had some influence on higher ambitions. For me The Magazine is a progression on this idea.

Giving Newsstand an opportunity

What is The Magazine then? It's a bi-weekly publication available as a Newsstand app based on a subscription model. I say publication because it feels weird to call Newsstand apps digital subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. Containing just four articles, the focus is long-form writing about “big picture” topics with geek appeal. Marco describes it as a magazine not limited to technology but for people who love technology.

The first issue includes articles by familiar names: Guy English, Jason Snell, Alex Payne and Michael Lopp talk about nerds vs. sports, how life is tied to technology, the status of blogging and the roles people take when developing software. These topics may be of your interest or not. Having such a limited selection means you're probably not going to skip any, which I found an interesting exercise as I tend to only read the things that interest me in traditional newspapers, magazines and websites — hence the need for Instapaper.

The app itself is very well designed to fit its purpose: stripped of superfluous graphics, The Magazine presents the articles in plain text without justification. It includes nice touches such as the footnotes and an author's bio popover. The look can be tweaked to your taste by modifying font size and colour scheme toggling a dark mode, more suitable for night reading. The colour palette used in both works for me. Swiping horizontally accesses the content summary while vertically scrolls through the article – there's no pagination.

The minimalist result feels like an evolution, like a grown-up Instapaper.

Aside from this being a new venture for its creator and an interesting project for use geeks to open Newsstand once again, I like the editorial idea behind The Magazine. Presenting longer writing from quality authors removes some of the odd constrains of online publishers. The impression I get from the first issue is that the writers chose topics close to them, things they’re passionate about. I also notice creative freedom without an agenda – Note how the four articles are structured and edited differently.

The Mac community buzzes with knowledgeable people that care to write online. Even if others make fun of us saying “people reading blogs are only other people blogging”. I don't mind if The Magazine ends up having such a niche audience. I like how Marco was committed to using the technology available to make this project financially viable paying the authors directly.

Weird name though.