Zeen streamlines digital magazine publishing
It's a heartbreaking time to be a magazine fan. The past decade has been a death march for pulpy newsstand publications. The Internet, the rise of digital media, and the expensive economics of printing have combined to make traditional magazines look like dinosaurs.
Ironically, digital publications are trying to emulate the media that they are ultimately replacing. One prime example is Zeen, a new do-it-yourself digital magazine publishing website that attempts to blend the aesthetic appeal of paper with the multimedia fun of the Internet. Zeen quietly launched earlier this year, and this week I was invited to a closed beta release. You can request an invite yourself on Zeen's site.
Zeen seems to have one simple mission: To help you create your own multimedia magazine quickly and publish it to as many people as possible. I studied magazine publishing in grad school and even helped launch a few publications, so it was both achingly surreal and positively inspiring to see how easy it was to get started. It took me 30 minutes to create my first five-page magazine, The Steely Dan Monthly (no, I don’t plan on making more issues).
After logging in with an original account or your Facebook or Twitter credentials, Zeen throws you into the deep end by letting you choose six features for your publication: A cover design, a font, a color scheme, a title, a cover image, and a description.
You can then immediately add pages to the publication. Want a cool image to open the pub? Zeen will connect you to a Web search so you can find one. The same could be said for news stories, video, and other content, not unlike the popular Twitter-driven digital newspaper Paper.li. What you’re developing is more US Weekly than The New Yorker; even the magazine description is limited to 200 characters. Zeen wants you to be a publisher (or, in modern day parlance, a "curator") in the very strictest sense of the word. You aren’t creating content so much as publishing content made by other people.
The user interface is as breezy as the premise. Pages can be added and deleted with one click of a big blue button. Your magazine's table of contents is rearranged by a drag-and-drop system. Videos and other multimedia can be tested easily before they are dropped in. Even publishing the final magazine can be done at any time with a click.
For a beta website, Zeen has a decent collection of magazines to browse, too. Zeen presumably takes its name from the word “zine," the self-published, homemade publications that do-it-yourselfers have been distributing for decades. The Zeen newsstand's offerings fall somewhere between classic zines and sophisticated Tumblr-like feeds. You can search for magazines by topic, tag particular publications as your favorites, and even "subscribe" so you’ll get a notice whenever a new issue of the pub is out.
The real barrier of Zeen is that, humorously, it has more limitations than traditional magazine publishing. Writing and publishing your own stories has no place here; for that job, I personally prefer Jux, which is my home on the web. Your publications always have to be accessed through the Zeen website, too, so the digital-publishing platforms and marketplaces now being used by traditional publishers, such as the Amazon Kindle or the Apple iBookstore, aren’t available to you.
Instead, Zeen is a cool, easy-to-use platform for quick creation and excellent multimedia archiving. It looks great in a browser and on the iPad, and its WYSIWYG setup makes it a great start for the next generation of content-creation platforms. We should look forward to what it’ll do after it leaves beta.