The publishing regime of digital and print media has always sought reinvention of itself when faced with the democratization of production and distribution via increasingly accessible tools (most recently, widespread access to the Web). Nevertheless, the burden of legacy and innovation has often fogged the possibilities of a self-actualized publishing platform. Writer and designer Craig Mod illuminates this predicament with the notion of ‘Subcompact Publishing,’ a conceptual homage to Honda’s subcompact car of 1967, the N360. He makes a parallel to the creators of the car with a clear and fundamental question: “What’s the simplest thing we can build for this?”
The modus operandi is rooted in the untapped potential of minimalism. Rather than simplifying the process of publishing and sharing, the goal is to create a system whereby those two are the only things left standing. This philosophy concentrates all efforts of user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) into nothing more than what the Web is inherently good at: publishing (production) and sharing (distribution). Those are the only two buttons that should ever really exist. Mod ventures into an analysis of optimizing those two functions through a ‘Subcompact Manifesto’ of publishing tools and ethos. Using magazines as an example he listed the key elements: Small issues (3-7 articles per issue), small file sizes, digital-aware subscription prices, fluid publishing schedules, always scroll—never paginate, have a clear navigation, make it HTML(ish)-based and touchable by the open Web (clean links).
The goal is not just to simplify but to make functionalism blush. And that is precisely what new publications such as Matter, Medium and The Magazine offer. High journalism for some, well-targeted niche for others. Competitive prices, light downloads, links to share and an accessible platform that facilitates easy payments and subscriptions. The moral of this story is not limited to the world of publishing. It seems shameful that shopping structures like PayPal, eBay and Amazon have lagged in this department. Indeed, the Apple Store and Newsstand “mitigates all complexity and trust issues connected with payments [...]The infrastructure allows you to give readers a free starter subscription, and then later—seamlessly—convert them to recurring monthly payments.” Sometimes inserting some boredom in a process can be good, when it means going back to basics, especially if it entails rethinking assumptions.