Jump in, have a quick read, jump out

The first British magazines on CD-Rom are out, reports Sophia Chauchard-Stuart

Traditionalists complain that magazines on CD-Rom cannot be read on the train, bus or in the comfort of the bath. But that is the only drawback to this medium. The pages do not tear, fade, destroy rainforests or get chewed by the dog.

The first two British products in this market are UnZip (IPC) and Blender (Dennis International). Both are competitively priced for the amount of material - promising up to six hours of continuous play - and are aimed largely at Generation X-ers, bored with just looking at print and eager to interact with their culture.

The new medium is heavily influenced by existing style, film and music magazines; they merge arty reviews with snappy graphics, video clips are overlaid with music segments and vibrant, moving fashion spreads. There are no directions: you just go where you like within the reams of information, pictures and sounds.

UnZip is a product of the IPC stable and draws on the group's music publications; Vox, Melody Maker and NME (hence the excellent facility for music buffs to print out back interviews in the "Bomb the Bass" pages). The main weakness of UnZip is its lack of critical reviews and reliance on heavy promotion, especially in the pages on the multimedia company Propaganda.

The opening animation, graphics and icon design is highly innovative, but perhaps IPC needs to clarify its audience. Someone who appreciates the nerdy humour of the "Polythene Jon" animation is unlikely to appreciate why, in the "Girls and Guitars" pages, women are taken more seriously these days in the music industry.

New Ageism abounds in the graphics and is discussed in the "World Of Maya", which poses questions about the future of technology and its effects on our interpersonal relationships. Only serious Trekkies will want to work out the secret code to access the higher level in the Star Trek Voyager interface; likewise, the fashion segment is solely aimed at devotees of hip.

But that is the beauty of these magazines containing so much varied material. You can jump in and out of items and find something you like.

Blender will appeal to cult magazine Face readers and culture-vultures who like Vanity Fair. Blender's best sections include a brilliant expose of marketing techniques (although high on irony, as the test-case discussed, is how to market an illegal substance to various consumer groups) and a truly interactive car review.

UnZip ran well, while Blender's linking soundtrack crackled when changing pages (it will probably run better on Quad-speed). Both were easy to use, with plenty of hidden pleasures, and were never boring. There is advertising, but it is not oppressive.

Having played both magazines, I am now well versed in Japanese animation (UnZip), impressed by the work of the photographer David Scheinmann (UnZip) and, after hearing the reviews of the fashion editor of Blender, will go see the film Hackers. I will definitely buy the new Letters to Cleo album (Blender) having heard two tracks I liked and - due to Blender's Seventies television-obsessed "Pop Culture Primer" - can now recite a witty epigram for every letter of the alphabet.

If UnZip better defines its audience and includes more critical journalism, and if Blender does not run out of cute icons and witty remarks, I will definitely buy the next two - if only to see which direction they will take.

UnZip is available, pounds 9.99 (quarterly), from newsagents, Virgin and HMV or by mail order (01933 414300). The next one will be February/March 1996. Blender is available, pounds 9.99 (bi-monthly), from Virgin, HMV and selected games retailers. The second edition is out now.

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