JR: Obviously, almost any subject you can point to in the magazine has a library’s worth of things that one could say about it, depending on the level of depth you want to get into. Part of what we did with the redesign-and this is the sort of partnership you can get out of digital-is to think, all right, you know that some print readers are pressed for time, looking for a glossy read, and thinking about how to get through an article fast. Some are looking for feature-length treatment of the information, and then they’re done. And some of them are looking at the feature as a springboard into everything else they might like to learn about the subject. So what we do now, when taking on articles, is figure out how we can structure the information into those kinds of tiers.
Then, as far as online, you start to get into, what are things we could put online that would really extend the experience beyond what we could or might want to put into print. For example, you can look at points that you know you’re struggling to explain in words. You can try to do something about them with graphics on paper, and sometimes you can get across the main points well enough. But if we can create some sort of animation, or some other kind of interactive presentation, boy, that will really make those points that much better. Now, in the early stages of an article, we try to do more brainstorming where the art people and the editors are all sitting down together and thinking it through, trying to develop some real ideas about how to go into the subject online and in print.
CB: Is the redesign a two-way street, insofar as you are using the Web site to drive traffic to the magazine as well? Or is this, in some way, a signal that Scientific American is shifting emphasis from print to the Web?
JR: There’s a strong sense that somewhere down the line, the Web may become more the center of all of our operations. Of course there’s also no question that for some years to come, the heart and soul of Scientific American’s business, and really its editorial identity, are going to rest very strongly on what we’re doing in print. So yes, I really do see the redesign as using the things we’re doing online to try to drive interest back over to the print magazine. On the Web site, we can arrange huge amounts of a lot of different sorts of content. But one of the great advantages that print still has over digital media is that the elegance of its presentation is far superior. So there’s great opportunity in thinking of what you’re doing in print as making the most polished presentation of the best of what you’re doing online.
CB: How do you expect the redesign to affect the magazine’s circulation and advertising?
JR: Bruce Branfon, our publisher, is telling me that the reception of our redesign in the ad community so far is very, very good. But the major reasons for doing the redesign were not to rapidly pursue more circulation or more ads. The happy thing is, our business is good these days. The redesign is important for keeping Scientific American current. You could say that it was kind of a defensive move, because we felt like if we didn’t redesign, it would hurt the fortunes of the magazine in the future. Scientific American is not just a print magazine these days, but to the extent that it is kind of a flagship product for us, we need to make sure that it’s an extremely attractive flagship.
CB: What advice would you give to other editors trying to make their print publications more current in the digital age?