Craft News

Dancing on Every Device: Mixmag’s Modern Approach to the Web

Jun 14, 2016 in Case Studies

Mixmag on Apple News

Background

Mixmag stepped onto the publishing dance floor in 1983, with an editorial staff that embraced DJs, house music, and the nightlife scene before most people knew it existed. It didn’t take long before Mixmag established itself as a market leader, known for its quirky humor and impeccable musical taste. It also gained a reputation for going beyond the printed page by including a “Mixmag Live” CD with every issue. Thirty-three years later and Mixmag hasn’t missed a step. Want proof? Just check out The Lab where each Mixmag office transforms into a dance club and invites the whole world to dance to the best upcoming DJs from across the planet.

But off the dance floor and away from the printed page, in the bowels of a flatfooted enterprise CMS, an epic version of a DJ’s worst nightmare threatened to crash Mixmag’s party.

The Problem

All of Mixmag’s websites were housed in a traditional enterprise CMS that got so bad the editorial staff just referred to it as “The Rat’s Nest.” Among other grievances, articles had to be coded directly in HTML, causing a huge publishing bottleneck; and the database got corrupted, which meant sites were crashing on a regular basis.

More importantly, Mixmag’s team knew that even if they could fix all the problems, they’d still be stuck in an enterprise world that was always looking backward and would never serve their forward-thinking culture or creative team. This was more than just a culture clash. The world of print publishing is dying and Mixmag’s Team had a clear plan to stay viable. A critical piece of this plan was moving their sites onto a publishing platform that could not only stay in sync with their present needs but take them years into the future.

Mixmag’s UX agency, Mathematics, understood the pain points and introduced them to The Rye Agency, a nimble creative team with experience helping publishers think differently about the web and beyond.

The Proposal

After a brief meet-and-greet phone call, Mixmag invited The Rye Agency to come up to their offices in London the following Friday. The Rye Agency came prepared. Instead of a traditional proposal, they developed with Craft a prototype version of Mixmag.net based on some recent print issues. Mixmag was sold within seconds.

“Once we showed the Mixmag team just how easy publishing online could be, they gave the project a go-ahead and commissioned us to partner with them on their new site.”

Andrew Fairlie, Lead Designer, The Rye Agency

The editorial staff instantly fell in love with Live Preview. It opened a world of possibilities for what Mixmag’s editorial team could do directly within their CMS. As The Rye Agency continued to show just how much power they could put directly into the hands of their editorial team using Craft, the stars aligned and a beautiful partnership was formed.

Screen Shot 2016 06 07 At 09 33 25

Live Preview gives authors a way to see what their content will look like right as they’re working on it.

The Work

Instead of a concrete scope of work, Mixmag and The Rye Agency decided to outline goals and work fluidly, allowing the chemistry between the teams to inform the end results. This creative strategy has been the secret to Mixmag’s growth and success.

The broad technical goals were:

  1. Build a flexible and powerful workflow that would enable Mixmag’s creative team to publish directly to all its sites, spanning 8 different languages. This meant the CMS had to have smart multi-lingual support on the front- and back-ends.
  2. All the sites had to be maintained centrally from a technical perspective, but remain independent at the editorial level.
  3. Mixmag’s online presence needed to be about more than websites. The modern online world is smart phones, tablets, apps, podcasts, social media, and whatever comes next. It’s important that Mixmag reach its customers on their own terms, so the new platform had to embrace COPE (Create Once Publish Everywhere).

Each of these goals elegantly played into Craft’s strengths. Craft’s native localization and translation features were a natural fit for Mixmag’s global presence. And creating a development workflow for pushing technical updates out to all the online properties while enabling each site its own independent content database was relatively straightforward. This allowed The Rye Agency to focus most of their efforts on the content and design with the surety that the technical implementation would “just work.”

The website relaunch went without a hitch in April 2015. But it wasn’t until after the relaunch that their third goal—to go beyond traditional websites—really started to take shape.

Apple News and Beyond

On October 22, Apple released iOS 9.1, and with it came the arrival of Apple News in the UK. Mixmag immediately saw the potential to reach their readers in a new and engaging way, so in December, The Rye Agency got to work on a custom Craft integration.

It didn’t take long before The Rye Agency had a prototype up and running. They demoed it to the Apple News team, who were extremely impressed—especially with how Craft’s Matrix fields mapped so elegantly to Apple News Format, in which an article is defined by a series of “components,” similar to Matrix blocks. (Since then, the Apple News team has been working directly with Pixel & Tonic on a more general purpose Apple News integration for Craft, which is available now.)

Mixmax listed on the featured Entertainment channels in Apple News

Mixmag was featured as one of Apple's partner channels at WWDC 2016.

Mixmag’s Apple News channel officially launched in February 2016, and Apple has gotten behind it in a big way. Mixmag is one of the recommended channels in the new user on-boarding process and it’s also one of the featured Entertainment channels.

Apple News led the way in helping Mixmag publish beyond its websites, but The Rye Agency didn’t stop there. They also worked with Mixmag to be early adopters of Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), both of which aim to give readers a better experience on mobile by optimizing for quick load times and clean reader-centric design. Using Craft’s powerful templating system, these additional integrations were developed, tested, and rolled out internationally within days, with no plugins, no changes to the CMS, and no disruption to editor workflow.

The Results

The partnership was an astounding success. Mixmag’s page view traffic tripled after their launch in Craft, and monthly traffic now exceeds 3 million impressions and 1.2 million unique visitors. They can manage multiple online magazines from a central location, don’t have to worry about workarounds anymore, and can launch new Mixmag sites with ease.

Mixmag’s editorial staff are pleased with the new, easy-to-use system that puts them in control. They can create an article in Craft and easily send it to the web, Apple News, and even Facebook Instant Articles with a single click.

“Craft allows us to preview articles quickly and then publish them through one control panel and then be confident it’s distributed to the website, Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles, and Google AMP without us doing any extra work. It’s streamlined and reliable.”

Bridget Mills-Powell / Head of Digital, Mixmag Media

No time was wasted on training implementation. When the initial site was launched, The Rye Agency trained the UK team, which was then able to orient the rest of the dispersed Mixmag teams. Thanks to the unique workflows that The Rye Agency created in Craft, technology and development fades into the background so much that content editors have intuitive control over the layout -without fussing over code. All of this was done without any complicated hacks or expensive add-ons. The entire build consisted of Craft’s core feature set, custom plugins, and good developer practices.

Craft, The Rye Agency, and Mixmag created the perfect mix of a seamless CMS software, skilled developers, and a client willing to ditch enterprise tools in favor of a modern approach. Mixmag is set to take advantage of whatever comes next to the wild, independent web. But right now it’s time to close the laptop, shove the desks aside, and dance away the workday’s stresses at The Lab.