There are just as many ways to aggregate online magazine content as there are online magazines. The concept of aggregating content has been around for as long as the internet, but it has been experiencing a resurgence of sorts as people try to tailor those experiences to fit an ever expanding set of mobile platforms and devices.
The holy grail is a consistent experience across multiple publishers that focuses strictly on the content, removing the user from the individual look and feel of different magazines. This presents an interesting conflict for publishers that place a high value on individual brands. Presentation is tantamount to content when it comes to swaying consumers to choose A over B.
By allowing aggregators to access magazine content – and thereby distort potential branding – are publishers doing themselves a disservice?
Aggregators like Pulse, Flipboard and Zite pay particular attention to how content from publishers gets parsed and displayed on their platforms. In essence, that experience represents their brand. Everything from page layout, transitions, and ad placement are an integral part of how users interpret that experience. This is exactly the same philosophy that publishers embrace when they design their own individual presentation layers. But a primary function of aggregators is to strip out that layer so that all that's left to work with is the content. So which one should prevail?
The battle over experience is determined largely by the purpose of the consumer. A lot of magazines have open contributor mechanisms whereby users can submit content for consideration. These mechanisms work extremely well in the individual framework of a single publisher. Everything from login to content moderation is maintained at that level. This is NOT something that would work well if you had to use it within the context of something like Pulse however. The individual experience is also where advertising becomes crucially important. Publishers have little to no control over where ads are placed on an aggregate platform. At best they can hope that readers will use the aggregator as a jumping off point to their content.
Aggregators work really well where the content is the only part of the experience that matters (especially on mobile platforms). Similar to a free daily publication, they serve to harvest as many headlines and abstracts as possible to give users a birds-eye view of similar content, with the option to dig deeper if they choose to. They also allow users to download content from multiple sources, manage subscriptions, and so forth. For the most part it's function over form (where the aim is to make the "form" as simple and elegant as possible).
An argument could be made that there is a benefit to having a publisher's audience increase as it is exposed through multiple aggregators, and that this exposure is worth giving up the individual experience – at least until readers land on your site. As an audience grows and becomes accustomed to a publisher's individual look and feel, there's also the chance that readers will start using that publisher's site as a primary destination for content, eliminating the need for an aggregate platform (for that publisher at least). In fact, aggregators are a necessary evil for many publishers that don't have an established audience.
Publishers continue to struggle in a market where readers have more access to content than ever before. With content aggregators, they may have to sacrifice some degree of brand integrity in the short term in order to attract a larger audience in the long term.