Quartz: The new digital-only publication with the tablet in mind

Interview with Kevin Delaney

As we have noted on this blog before, a number of venerable magazines are inching toward existing primarily in the digital space. Quartz, the new business publication from the Atlantic Media Company, is making the digital leap entirely. Launching this fall, Quartz will be a digital-only publication designed primarily for the tablet. And unlike print publications, which must adapt their business models and journalistic style to new technologies, Quartz is starting with a digital blank slate. They can create and mold their publication to fit the needs of a tech-savvy generation of global business leaders. I recently spoke with Kevin Delaney, Quartz’s editor-in-chief, to learn more about Quartz’s tablet-based strategy.

Why are you focusing on digital platforms like the tablet?

There are three main reasons why we’re viewing mobile and tablet as primary platforms. One, the data is very clear that the user base for the devices is large and growing quickly. This is especially true when you look across the world, and we have visions to build real global leadership.

Secondly, we’re hoping to build a service and news product for global business leaders, and one of the defining attributes of these global leaders is that they are incredibly mobile. So the decision to design a news site for mobile as the primary platform really maps to usage patterns.

Lastly, there are tremendous opportunities for innovation on mobile and tablet platforms. In terms of the user interface, we’re really at the beginning of the road for user interfaces for news consumption. We think there are opportunities to advance on that to some degree.

So we will have a desktop website from the beginning, but we’re thinking of tablet and mobile as primary platforms. We’re reversing what people and publishers have traditionally done.

How will you package content differently for a tablet than for a print or web-based publication?

We’ll be producing a variety of types of content. We have the advantage of not having to write 100 articles to appear in a newspaper. We’ll write short articles; we’ll write long articles; we’ll refer our readers to other organizations’ websites; we’ll publish data and graphs. We can focus all of our energy on the best way to convey information to our readers digitally – without the default format and constraints that print can bring.

A key to our success will be an openness to experimentation and an appetite for iterating. What we’re laying as a foundation is the possibility to produce content on any different platform with an equality between different forms. On tablets, for example, people probably have more of an appetite to read long-form writing and to go through a whole range of articles instead of just stepping in and out of sight. 

We’re actually currently in the design and information architecture phase for our site. And instead of doing what publications have traditionally done, we’re taking the tablet as the primary wireframe structure – and then talking about how it works on mobile and the web. The primary design of the wireframe [which defines the structure of a website] is for the tablet. 

There has been a recent debate about whether publications should be building their mobile sites through a native app, like Apple’s iOS, or through a web-based HTML 5 system. What will Quartz be using?

Our belief is that you need very good mobile web experience from the start, and our focus right now is on designing an innovative mobile web experience using HTML 5 technology. Along the way, we’re assessing the ability to optimize and innovate, and it’s possible that we’ll decide that HTML 5 doesn’t fully accommodate that. So far, though, we’re pretty optimistic that we can do what we want to do with the mobile web model. Our assessment is that we can use HTML 5 to build what we want to build. That said, we’re pretty early, so I couldn’t give you a 100% definitive answer.

What are the advantages of starting from scratch when it comes to building a digital publication?

The advantage of starting from scratch at this moment in history is that we can just go with an HTML 5 web app and not have to support a dozen different apps for different devices and different platforms. In terms of resources, building different apps can get pretty significant and intensive. Starting digital first enables us to provide a great experience on different devices and focus our energy on continuing innovation rather than having to keep up a whole fleet of specific apps for different platforms