Thursday was my favorite day of the week growing up. That’s the day that, roughly 50 weeks a year, Sports Illustrated arrived in the mail.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, the magazine fed my obsession with sports — whether it be Franco Harris, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowls against the Dallas Cowboys; fictional (and almost fictional) characters like pitchers Sidd Finch and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych; and as I’d later come to appreciate, the originality of writers like Dan Jenkins, whose style was a precursor to new journalism practiced by icons outside of sport like Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese.
Sports Illustrated was a factory for profitable ideas like Sportsman of the Year, Faces in the Crowd and the annual Swimsuit Issue. These concepts transcended the magazine into standalone platforms and spawned numerous copycats that make up sports media today.
I thought about the fading legacy and creative depth of magazines like Sports Illustrated while exploring Apple’s shiny new news bundle, Apple News+. With the decline of publishing dating back more than a decade, Apple News+ as a model for media engagement is especially consequential considering the 1.3 billion iOS devices that can now run it.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
As reported in The New York Times — ironically joining The Washington Post as one of the few major publications who declined to join up — $9.95 a month gets us access to a digital newsstand carrying more than 300 publications. The selection ranges from high-end magazines like The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue, to newspapers including The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, to a deep catalog of branded and niche content like Airbnb Magazine and Salt Water Sportsman.
The Apple News+ user experience presents conventions like “publications,” “magazines” and “newspapers” as fading constructs given the content blend it presents from hundreds of sources. The experience leans on previous investment in its digital newsstand, Texture (where many titles were PDF replicas of print copies), combined with repackaged articles and curated summaries included in the first rev of Apple News.
As only Apple can do, its media buffet attracted over 200,000 subscribers in the first 48 hours. As a frequent user of Texture, I was quick to sign up and can say without question that it’s both awesome in inventory, and daunting on where to direct my attention. This is both a personal and professional context.
As a content consumer, gone are the days of deep, scheduled reading that leads to anticipation and appreciation for a content brand like Sports Illustrated. In its place, at least for me, is a venue better suited for breezing through story highlights, across an array of interests, from a multitude of sources.
In a professional context, gone too are the days of solely directing energy toward driving clients to known entities. In its place is a mandate to continually assess and work with the most engaging voices — irrespective of past categorization — by taking an analytical view at a moment in time.
Anyone Can Produce Content. Distribution is a Different Story.
While anyone with an internet connection can be a content producer, what’s not democratic is content dissemination and visibility for it. Apple News+ is the latest and perhaps most visible case of big tech platforms having means to orchestrate that.
The scale of distribution through Apple’s devices, combined with a model that elevates its own editorial curation with algorithmic publishing, gives reporters at venues like Vanity Fair ample reason to question if the company’s move represents a “party or wake.”
For some esteemed media brands, my bet continues to be on the latter. Only the strongest, most technically savvy sources will survive.