iPad Martha Stewart Living: The Future of Text?

by | Nov 30, 2010

I’m fascinated watching how large media companies are trying to exploit the amazing potential of the Apple iPad for digital publication design. In June we looked at the way Wired Magazine failed to provide much of a reader experience in trying to translate a print publication directly to digital.

I knew there had to be people working on better solutions, and I was curious to see what Martha Stewart would do with the launch of their flagship product, Martha Stewart Living. This decorating, cooking and lifestyle magazine is popular in print. But Martha and her organization also have deep experience in book publishing and video. On top of that, they practice a restrained, elegant, but eminently practical style of typography. I gladly paid my $3.99 and downloaded the app to my iPad.

Get Ready for Multimedia

iPad Martha Stewart Living: The Future of Text?It seems like the folks at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO) learned from other attempts at publication design for the iPad. Everything that disappointed me about Wired Magazine’s iPad version seemed to be solved in MSL.

It’s easy to use, has clear navigation, makes intelligent use of the screen for reading. This isn’t just a PDF of a magazine. It’s a magazine that’s been rethought with readers’ enjoyment and utility in mind.

After a load time of about 5 seconds, I was amazed at my first look at the magazine. I sat and watched in wonder as the screen filled with an animation of a huge pink peony opening. It was a simple and artful way to introduce a new reading experience.

Martha Stewart Living: The Future of Text?

Click to enlarge. Note the navigation tips.

The issue is called “Boundless Beauty” and this theme is borne out over and over throughout the publication. I noticed a little toggle button that actually said “toggle” on it in the corner of the screen. Below the button was the legend “Tap for more.” A tap froze the cover image and put the rest of the magazine’s type on the cover.

Reader Friendly, Even Amusing

Throughout the design of this digital publication, you get the feeling of being well cared-for, like the designers really thought about the people who would be using the app. The first thing you come upon is a “How-To Guide” that explains how to use the interface, and the kinds of fun you can have with it.

Martha Stewart Living: The Future of Text?

Digital text eliminates the page when it needs to. This would be almost impossible in a printed product, but makes complete sense in a digital one.

And there’s a sense of playfulness in a lot of what’s been done with animations and page layout. You move from story to story by going left and right, and you read a story, or drill down for more detail by going down from the beginning. In one case an article descended for 22 screens full of story before you reach the end. The How-To Guide itself is a good example:

At each step you get help from the design, like arrows showing that more lies outside the screen you are looking at, or explicit statements like “tap any picture to go to that story” or “tap the thumbnails for recipe step-by-step.” All this adds to a fun and playful experience because you never have to wonder what to do next.

When there are multiple illustrations for a story, instead of just swapping the photos in a viewing window, they change animated with a slow fade that’s elegant. When there’s an audio to listen to, a legend lets you know it’s “44 sec.” up front. That’s friendly.

Publication Design

The design of the app follows closely the design of the magazine. It’s mostly set in a square-serif typeface and combines elegant typography with luscious photography. Page after page shows just what can be done with the iPad’s great display.

The problem is, the magazine looks better on the iPad than it does in print. In almost every way, Martha Stewart Living is a better, more interesting, more entertaining and ultimately more satisfying experience in its digital form than it is in print.

You lose the ability to write on the pages, to toss it across the counter, or to use it to start your next fire. But that doesn’t seem like a lot to give up to get this beautiful, interactive digital product.

Of course, publications like this are clearly outside the province of self-publishers, and a magazine is not a book anyway. But seeing some of the possibilities of the iPad begin to emerge in publications is going to change our idea of what a digital text should be.

After all, what exactly is the difference between reading the Martha Stewart Living app, derived from a magazine, and Lee Foster’s GPS-enabled San Francisco Photography Guide app, derived from a book? Or an O’Reilly book app? Or a “book” from the iBookstore? Each one is simply a different icon on the touchscreen.

The iPad, a convergent techology weighted toward content consumption, may well help along the convergence of digital text from many sources into new forms we’re only beginning to see.


Martha Stewart Living (iTunes link)
Category: Lifestyle
Released: Nov 10, 2010
573 MB
© 2010 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. bettymingliu

    i just bought the app, joel. oh my goodness, it’s gorgeous. as you say, it’s a re-invention, a new way to think about magazines.

    and you’re so right about wired. i have that app too. total waste — it’s just the print magazine, reproduced for the ipad. and plus — you have to buy the mag every month. do i have to do that with the martha mag too?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey, great Betty I’m glad you enjoyed it. You have to buy each issue just like with a print magazine, but considering what you get I think $3.99 is pretty fair. Have fun!

  2. Teri Washington

    Leave it to Martha to take it up a notch! She’s always been my publishing mentor. I will be launching my emag in Jan 2011 thanks for sharing this useful info.


    • Joel Friedlander

      Teri, you are so right. I’ve often admired Martha’s publishing prowess. She knows what her readers want, and she gives it to them in beautiful and effective ways. A lesson for us all. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Barbara Barth

    Hi Joel – Love this post. I feel I am right there with Martha! I am launching my online dog magazine tomorrow. It was completed yesterday using ePaperFlip. The magazine is full color, twenty-six pages, and flips online. You can use the buttons across the top of the page to zoom in and do a variety of things. There are embedded links in each article that takes you out to the site mentioned. I have had a ball with this one! My subject of course….dogs! The magazine Writer With Dogs: The Magazine Where Dogs Meet Art is dedicated to animal rescue groups, dog lovers, dog blogs and victorian and modern art with dogs. This is the kick-off issue for Winter, 2010. Move over Martha Stewart, I am closing in!

    My new web is https://www.writerwithdogs.com/


    Joel, as a side issue, Michael would be proud of me. I’m moving my book from Outskirts and putting it under my own imprint, Gilbert Street Press. That guy had it right!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Barbara, Congratulations! Writer With Dogs is a great concept, I hope you do very well with the launch. I’ll look forward to having a look, being a Writer With Dogs myself. Thanks for telling us about it.

  4. Michael N. Marcus

    Martha’s magnificent e-Mag demonstrates the huge advantage of the iPad platform over basic monochrome e-Readers like the Kindle.

    It’s exciting to contemplate where we’ll be in a few years: maybe 3D images with the realistic aroma of baking cookies or a roasting turkey. We should have stereo sound and one or two cameras next year for gen-2.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: https://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),” https://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, one of the things I enjoyed about this magainze were the food shots. Some of them have a button that says “have a peek inside” and morph into a partially-deconstructed view of a phyllo-wrapped savory dish, for instance. It just seemed that the designers knew that people would use more of the magazine if it was fun to use.



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