_Mac Format: reinvigorating a computer magazine

Reinvigorating Mac Format

Web Designer before

Brief/ To make the magazine relevant. In a declining market, MacFormat was being beaten by Mac User. Worse, it had no clearly defined path. Below are some of the issues considered when relaunching the magazine...


Cover features should be the definitive, no-nonsense guide to everything about this piece of hardware etc. (e.g. look at how Mojo provides the definitive band guides, a complete history, timelines, anecdotes – it’s absolutely rammed with info). The new Apple hardware feature appeals to every Mac owner – even if you’re not planning on buying one. Therefore, make the feature huge – give it 12pp. Make yours into the definitive guide. Add comparative charts and graphs – this machine vs the old model. Include lots of boxouts and entry points. Get some interviews in there. What about comment from other Mac people? Make it feel packed. And sell the annotations and boxouts that you’re doing – don’t bury them.

Get some decent photography – images are really poor and out of focus.

Buyer’s Guide: Any idea whether your readers want one of these? When someone is looking to buy a piece of equipment they look around for a mag with a buyers guide – a great way to pull in passing trade. Also, a buyer’s guide is something you can sell really strongly on the cover and helps create an impression that you’re the definitive Mac mag – e.g., ‘All Mac hardware reviewed – over 1500 items rated’ (e.g. Q magazine has for years run its “Over 200 albums reviewed and rated” flash – they stick with it for a reason).


Have you ever thought about establishing more points of difference with MacWorld? I don’t know your readership profile and it might not be right to follow and of these ideas, but here’s some directions you could go…

• PROFESSIONAL INPUT. My own experience of Mac owners is that they tend to be computer literate, have more cash to spend, use a mac at work and think of themselves as intelligent people. They might not want a professionals Mac mag like MacUser, but my instinct tells me that want to be treated as discerning and upmarket readers. My instinct would be to take the mag’s position to the professional end of consumer, rather than low-end consumer as it comes across at the moment (reinforced by features: MW rounds up monitors, MF rounds up mice and keyboards). For example, you could try and get more professionals involved. E.g. a video professional writes a comment column about Premiere and this slots into the Premiere review. Your tips section could be hosted by people who look more like experts. In the cover feature you could include a boxout of comments from different professional types talking about what they think of all the new Mac features – a video expert, a designer, a web pro. Include columns in News. Include a contributors page selling the virtues of your professionals. With enough of these sorts of things you could make the mag feel more human and more in touch with what’s going on… which leads onto…

• COMMUNITY. MF feels very inhuman and faceless right now (those column pages in MW are weak but the faces make such a difference to the feel of the mag). How about trying to get more community into MF? If you don’t want to go the professional end, then what about the reader end? You could run tutorials which look at stuff that semi-professionals have done. You could also run follow-up features where you get readers or semi-profs to come in and use equipment for a while and report how it went – e.g. what do people think of the new mac after using it for a month? You could even run some sort of debate where you get several people/readers/semi-profs to come in and chat about the hardware and run that as a feature. Or, you could get readers to pose their questions to Apple in a big ‘New Directions’ feature.

• TIPS. Another alternative might be to make the mag more of a tips bonanza – tips always going down well: get more out of your machine for no money. You could run an ‘Ask the Experts’ Q&A section which stretches for 6pp. You could then run another section (in conjunction with Mac Recovery or Apple Fixit?) where you list this month’s commonly posed problems and solutions. You could then run tips columns from professionals, too where they offer a new tip every month – for example, a detailed guide to doing some special technique. Also, run lots of tutorials and semi-prof tutorials and bung the whole lot into a branded tips section so that your commitment to tips is really obvious when readers flick through the mag at newsstand.

• NEWS. You could find ways to make yourself look like you’re more in touch with what’s happening on Macs right now. Readers love news sections – they’re the sort of thing you read on the tube. You could make this your raison d’être – a big news section, lots of boxouts and regular elements, lots of sidebars. Again, look at News in Q – you could have those sorts of elements and regulars. Get that sort of buzz. This would also be an opportunity to get more faces into the mag through a series of columns, comment boxes, mini-interviews. This is also a great spot to include little roundups, top 10s, websites (incidentally, there isn’t much Web stuff in MF).

• PRODUCT BASED. You need to own your reviews. You need to find a way of making a review in MacFormat different to a review in MacWorld. Readers shouldn’t feel like they’re getting the same thing in both. There are some excellent examples of this, particularly from the newspaper world. E.g. Peace break out in Northern Ireland, all the papers are covered it but The Sun gets a cover shot of world leaders holding yesterday’s copy of The Sun with the words ‘PEACE’ written on it – everyone is writing the same stuff about peace but The Sun ends up looking like they own the peace process. You need to find a way of bringing that to MacF. What about tagging a spread onto your big reviews where you get end users/readers to use it for a while and talk about how it specifically affected them and the things they do?

• WEB SAVVY. MacFormat could become the mag that links really tightly to the Net. Could include lots of website roundup where people go for more info. Run lots of ways to get people doing more on the Net (tutorials etc), cover lots of sites to go to for Mac tips. And include columns from Web people and Web experts.


Cover text: need to really sell the big stuff – giving cover features much more space gives you the scope to make really fantastic features with lots of elements – sell these on the cover: “12 pages of…”, “100 tips to…” “Biggest ever guide to…” “Experts give verdict on…” Think of the benefits – what does your average reader get from this? Always remember: covers are a marketing thing. It’s the most important page you’ve got. If you were telling your mate down the pub why he should buy MF, what would you say? How would you sell the issue to a games fan? How would you sell to a soho fella? Get hits on the cover that appeal to all these people. Think ‘benefit’ at every stage. I’d even suggest that you should write coverlines before you commission your cover features – a coverline needs to sell the benefit in under 10 words so if you do coverlines first you’ll be thinking about what the biggest turn on of the feature will be.

Cover design: You’ve got to get better photography. Also, MW looks physically bigger because of the full bleed imagery.

Make some special issues. Find something that means a lot to every Mac owner and really go to town with it inside and on the cover. The new Apple hardware and OS are both ideal for this treatment. Something like this could pull in loads of new readers, or readers that have gone elsewhere for a while. Could even back it up at news stand with shelf talkers (really cheap). But you need the right subject. This overcomes the fact that MW has more pages than MF because you’re giving more pages to the stuff that matters (if you’re buying a Mac mag for info on the new hardware then you’ll buy the mag with the most coverage - obviously). Another special issue could be tied into a coverdisk product – e.g., first demo of Photoshop CS or Flash5 giveaway – mount the CD in the very centre of the cover, tie it into the coverlines, make it seem really, really special and backup with a feature inside.

Break the rules every now and again. You need people to stop and think about picking up MacFormat. They may have drifted elsewhere – you need them to stop and sample. .Net has done a great job of this with their face/tongue cover. I haven’t picked up .Net in a while but saw that dramatic cover on the newsstands and picked it up for a look. It was unexpected and that’s why it stood out.

Top left corner is the most important part of the cover – you rarely get full-facing & on many newsstands the top left corner is the only bit people see. Make that bit clearly identifiable as belonging to MacF (that’s why MacWorld have printed their web address down the side of the mag – wander into any London newsagent looking for a Mac mag and it’s easy to spot).

-03/2001, MARK HIGHAM