An eternal question, and one as relevant to a magazine as to anything else.
The processes behind MSDN Magazine are subject to many of the same constraints as are most other production products, including software products. This includes the classic project triangle, where the corners or sides of the triangle represent schedule, resources, and scope. For MSDN Magazine, schedule is set in stone; we have fixed ship dates each month for the magazine, every month, and we don’t slip, period. Resources include the staff we have for handling the editing, art, and production tasks of the magazine, the authors who produce the content for the magazine, and of course the monetary costs/budgets involved. And while not quite as rigid as schedule, it’s very difficult for us to increase our resourcing. So, if two sides of the triangle can’t be increased, what does that mean for the third side?
The scope of the magazine, in terms of the project triangle, is an interesting thing to define. We produce a certain number of articles each month, a certain number of pages of content, both a print vehicle and a web vehicle for that content, and a variety of other outputs, and we do all of that at a very high quality bar. When resource pressures occur (which can include those caused by vacations or conferences or lulls in advertising and the like), that causes pressure to be put on scope. We won’t sacrifice on quality, that’s not an option, and we’ll continue to publish both in print and online, so an obvious place to cut back is in the amount of content we publish. Less content means less editing and artwork and production and so forth. But just like we won’t sacrifice quality, sacrificing size has never sat well with me, either.
Since joining MSDN, I’ve been passionate about ensuring that we put out the right content, and enough of it, each and every month. Whether or not others do, I pay very careful attention to, among many other things, how many articles we’re publishing and how long those articles are, not just for length’s sake, but because I want to ensure we’re getting out the in-depth technical content that we’re here to get out. A large part of my responsibilities are ensuring that the content in those pages is relevant, timely, accurate, insightful, and so on, but that can’t be done if the pages don’t exist to begin with, and thus I also concern myself with making sure we have enough pages and articles to meet your needs. While I have my fingers in the other sides of the triangle as well, I think it’s fair to say that I’m mostly focused on, and the biggest advocate for, this piece of the triangle. Others on our staff are equally vested in and cognizant of the resources side of the triangle, and thankfully so. But we frequently find ourselves in debate, with one of us pushing for more content and the other pushing for less, both of course for valid reasons (since at the end of the day, we all care about putting out a stellar magazine for everyone to learn from and enjoy).
The size of the magazine can vary greatly from month to month. While I’ve been here, I’ve seen issues as small as 130 pages and as large as 200, quite impressive for a monthly technical journal. Frequently it hovers in the 140-150 page range, of which approximately 60% is pure content, typically with 15-17 articles. When our resources decrease in a given month for any number of reasons, the argument that readers don’t pay attention to the size of the magazine is frequently used as a justification for cutting pages or articles here or there. More often than not, I end up debating this point (both from a “yes they do notice” and from a “we can’t achieve our goals this way” point of view) until some compromise is reached. However, as with many discussions, I’ve never seen either side of this argument backed by data. And this leads us back to the title of this post…
Does size matter? Do you notice when the magazine is smaller than usual? Does that directly or indirectly affect your happiness with it as a tool you rely on? And is smaller ever better?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter… if you have an opinion, either way, please do leave it as a comment here. I’m very interested to see the results.