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Thoughts on starting a new job…

Mat Toor, the new Head of Digital at Imagine Publishing, looks forward to his new role and gives us his thoughts on current digital trends.

By Mat Toor

I’m starting as Head of Digital at Imagine Publishing down in Bournemouth. And I have a really good feeling about what the prospects of the role have to offer, even though it’s a 100 miles away from the media hurly burly of London.

Like other smaller publishers such as Dennis Publishing, Imagine thrives on ideas from the ground up – there’s even a form you can download from the new intranet where you spec out your new launch.

The website Den of Geek was one of the most unexpectedly successful I worked on at Dennis – that came from an editor on a totally unrelated title with bags of enthusiasm and energy to spare. That’s the rich creative seam we can draw on when we start new projects. It’s an ideas-fed rather than a money-led place to be.

And there are several other reasons to be cheerful, too.

The demise of the SEO ‘professional’

An overstatement but, hey, I can dream.

A few years ago, the mathematicians kidnapped SEO and tried to turn common sense into a science. They came armed with spreadsheets and synonyms then hired people in India to write keyword-packed articles for pennies.

Well there are hundreds of experienced SEO experts at Imagine. They write millions of key phrases about subjects that people want to read about in a way that makes them part with their money. They may need to unlearn some print habits online – cryptic headlines, an allergy to repetition – but suitably tweaked I’d back them against an army of pros.

Rewriting the ‘rules of writing online’

Ten years ago, we were all staring at 800 by 600 resolution PC monitors at 72 DPI. Now we pocket mobile devices with ‘retina’ displays that surpass print quality. The page-and-a-half-scroll limit and the insistence that the Web is No Place For Long Articles have faded along with the threat of eyestrain.

At the same time, the tidal wave of SEO-orientated ‘churn-alism’ from the likes of the Daily Mail and Associated Content means that there remains a great opportunity for thoughtful, provocative, well-written and well-researched journalism.


Now we show as well as tell

Put three smart people in a room and record them talking about something they are passionate about. Behold instant, unique, great-quality content.

I could blow our own trumpet here, and hail Imagine’s array of wonderful podcasts. But instead I urge any music lovers to The Word magazine’s weekly MP3, a wonderful showcase for informed, entertaining and grown-up conversation.

What makes it all the more revelatory is that the Word’s podcasters-in-chief, David Hepworth and Mark Ellen, were comically inept with technology when I worked with them at Emap a few years back. Now they blog and pod with the best of the younglings: you can teach an old dog new tricks.

(Of course, if anyone apart from Ricky Gervais can teach me how to make money from podcasting I’d love to learn, but that’s another article).

iPad. Almost perfect.

Of all the new mobile devices, the iPad is the one that has serially seduced magazine publishers. And yet not one has really done an iPad magazine right yet.

It’s a brilliant delivery device for photos and video, but cramming narrow format text columns into the nine-inch screen is still an unimaginatively old fashioned way of doing things.

That’s why I love smart ideas like Sports Illustrated’s ‘super long view’ (SLV), which lets your fingers caress in extended images from outside the viewport. The move subtly reinforces the intimate sense of touch between the reader and magazine with no need for technical wizardry.

At Imagine, we’re doubly blessed: we have an arsenal of great magazines aimed squarely at the iPad’s demographic and also bags of in-house talent to create home-baked apps. That’s definitely a path we plan to take to the App Store to supplement our best-selling range of PixelMags apps.

Just add a high resolution display like the iPhone 4 and it will be perfect.

Final thoughts…

Just as the latest Apple Operating System imports feature from the iOS, so newer websites have clearly been influenced by the interface of apps. More space between elements, simpler layouts, bigger pictures.

Could the same design blowback happen from apps to print? My gut instinct says yes. And I suspect several upcoming magazine redesigns will prove me right.

But whatever the next two or three years hold in store, I’m happy right now to be just where I am. That happy meeting place between new ideas and new technology where bright new things germinate and grow.