DIYode, a new Australian DIY electronics magazine has just launched. I picked up my first edition from the Jaycar counter. It’s thick, glossy and oozes high production values. There’s an nostalgia in having a current electronics magazine on the coffee table. It takes me back to the 1980s when Electronics Australia, Silicon Chip and Electronics Today International bought circuits, components, kits and articles, not to mention ads and specials from hobbyist-focused advertisers like Dick Smith into our lives every few weeks. Those days are gone forever. Smartphones and the internet have put every circuit diagram and datasheet at our fingertips, and have spawned global communities which put world experts just minutes or hours away. So in July 2017, where does a glossy DIY electronics magazine fit in this smorgasbord of information and community?
When the magazine rumor was substantiated by online and facebook pages back in March, a thread broke out on EEVBlog which unearthed the magazine’s proponent, Rob Bell from Limeworks creative agency in Gosford (an hour and a half up the coast from Sydney). Mr Bell offered some clarifications on the infamous larrikin blogger’s forum.
DIYODE will showcase community projects and invite community contributions from the first issue. A significant portion of each month’s project content will be user-sourced. We will develop our own projects and content as well, with an emphasis on projects that address problems that matter, with a dose of geeky stuff added in. The magazine will be offered in print via subscription, digital, or off the news stand. Pre-publication subscriptions would include a “love it or leave it” offer (if you don’t love the first issue, collect a full refund). — Rob Bell, Editor in Chief, DIYODE.
Issue 1 is a collection of classic maker-fare. Its target audience is maker movement journeymen, members of the recently emerged “social movement with an artisan spirit in which the methods of digital fabrication — previously the exclusive domain of institutions — have become accessible at a personal scale” as Wikipedia puts it. Makers pursue “personal fabrication for a market of one person”. Maker tooling includes 3D printers, off-shore printed circuit board fabrication, Arduino and R-Pi, and access to mass-production electronic components and modules via eBay. Maker culture is primarily for the fun of it, although there is a lot in common with startup culture.
The first edition’s editorial outlines the mag’s mission, to highlight the most impressive projects from the maker community. Regular sections include Features (overviews of projects without build details), Education (technical topics from basic electricity to 555 PWM), Projects (controllers with build details), Columns and Reviews, A few pages are unexpected but delightful — a one-page comic (The Adventures of Circuit Modd) and a story about makers transitioning into a small business startup.
So it’s not surprising that there are a host of microcontroller projects, many of which are lashed up on breadboards, so no soldering required. There is enough information on the pages to give an overall impression of the project but additional construction details and in some cases circuit diagrams are omitted. Many of the articles convey the vibe of a contributor’s build… what they did, with strong visuals, and how they did it, but not the blueprints or exhaustive detail. Projects, though, include the construction detail.
The writing is simple, consistently edited and to the point. The page designs are colourful and engaging. Advertisements (from the usual suspects) are placed to avoid distractions on content pages. It’s detailed enough where it needs to be (the article on an Arduino web server explains HTTP messages) but manages to recognise the limits of a magazine reader’s concentration span. It’s a pleasant read. The design edge gives the geeky projects a cool edge. I start to daydream about what I could remotely control with an Arduino web server. DIYODE is doing its job on me.
The first issue is 100 pages. Maintaining this size monthly will be a significant undertaking. There’s no doubt the interest and activity level in the electronics and maker communities is enough to constitute a viable content source. However a lot of the projects that people discuss or post to online fora are unfinished, untested, or just don’t work. DIYODE have a technical adviser (Bob Harper) on staff who will vet the projects. It will be interesting to see how the magazine engages with its maker-contributors to bring their projects to a publication-ready state.
What’s in it for contributors? Dave from EEVBlog commented that getting your project published in the electronics magazines of the past made a name for yourself in the industry… something you could be proud to put in your resume, something employers might take notice of. Blogs and Youtube channels have changed that, but magazines, he thinks, still have ‘credibility factor’ because they vet and select projects for publication. That’s still worth something. DIYODE could focus on selecting and publishing only the best quality projects and articles, making it a kind of ‘trusted mediator’ to help DIYers navigate the volume of maker-stuff flooding the internet.
DIYODE will have to reach financial sustainability if it is to stick around. In the internet age a print magazine faces challenges and opportunities. The challenge is to sell enough copies at a time when most of the content is freely available online, complete with immediate community support. The opportunities are to harness co-creation to publish a high quality magazine for minimal cost. The gamble might come down to a few factors.
One is the desirability of the paper magazine format. Despite iPads, smartphones and Kindle, people are still buying books and magazines. A part of the enduring appeal is the reading experience. The association of high production values with luxury in a product you can grasp in your hand still stands. And in the age of Apple, design is another key factor in consumer product success.
“Paper is a luxury material and I think that consuming our magazine is a luxurious experience. It is very different from the way that you engage with online content… Working in print builds a different, more desirable relationship with readers than online… It extends to things like the quality of the photography and the production and the way it is graphically designed.” — Penny Martin, editor, The Gentlewoman, a niche fashion magazine.
Pictures of Arduinos are not the same as pictures of beautiful people in expensive clothes and jewelry (not to most people). Pairing electronics and DIY with high production values has not been done before. That DIYODE was borne of a digital creative agency with diverse siblings such as digital makeovers for industry, lingerie and jewelery clients might be another success factor. Makers may be unfashionable geeks, but they are consumers nonetheless.
Could it be the DIYODE brains trust are thinking bigger… if DIYODE is a part of a well designed marketing plan, the brand may ultimately be worth more than the magazine. Kinfolk, for example, is a magazine based in Portland that celebrates the ‘slow lifestyle’ and features charming photography and intimate interviews with creatives. It has been able to leverage the brand as curators of products, tapping transactional revenue by setting up online stores.
DIYODE’s first step would be to position for the global maker audience — after all, Arduinos and R-Pis are the same the world over. There’s probably space for a pure-play electronics maker mag… Make and Instructables are broader, they cover anything that can be made. Dave (EEVBlog) offered this advice:
“Whilst I love nostalgia, my advice is to completely drop any and all reference to Australia and New Zealand, and make DIYODE a worldwide publication. Most people will go the digital version anyway, but keep up the print as it adds a tangible credibility. If you limit content from Australia/NZ, then you miss out on >90% of the world’s content producers.”
And brand presence. Last time I looked at an external USB Drive for backups I was offered a more highly priced unit in a shiny aluminium case designed by Porsche. What does Porsche have in common with a backup drive? Nothing, of course. It’s an extreme example, but a much smaller gap could be bridged by a well-positioned niche maker brand in the future.
All speculation aside, Rob Bell and the team are to be congratulated for launching a new Australian electronics and maker magazine. DIYODE is an excellent offering and I wish them the best of luck with the venture. To that end, I’ve subscribed for a year.