A new app from Broken Pencil makes arts and culture writing more accessible.
As the publishing industry continues to transform itself in an attempt catch up with technology, readers are constantly being presented with new ways of reading. In Canada, one of these new forays into delivering written content is The Nub Indie Arts Hub, a free app for Android and iOS, released earlier this month by Broken Pencil, a local indie-arts magazine.
The Nub’s premise is simple and smart: every weekday, it delivers a new piece of content, sourced from one of the app’s all-Canadian publishing partners: Geist, Subterrain, Matrix, Taddle Creek, or Broken Pencil itself. This is content that’s generally available only with print or electronic subscriptions, so downloading and using the app gives readers free access to paid content, while also giving each piece of writing a wider potential audience. The app is supported by advertising: there’s a small banner ad at the top of each page.
The Nub only launched recently, so the archive of material available is still quite small—but what’s there is excellent. Highlights include book reviews by A.G. Pasquella, Stephen Osbourne, Heidi Greco, and Katie Sehl; “No Kind of Man,” a piece of fiction by Madeline Sonik; poems by Chandra Mayor, Jeff Stuebel, and Divya Victor; a feature on zine culture in prison by Ashleigh Gaul; and “The Paper Dress,” the winner of Geist‘s eighth-annual Postcard Story Contest. Future content is expected to include comics, essays, interviews, and profiles.
The app itself, however, is a little bit buggy. The list of articles refreshes itself every single time the reader moves from a specific piece of writing back to the main page, which can cause the app to load slowly. Sometimes the article list doesn’t reload at all, and instead displays an error. Most disappointing of all was that despite the fact that the app is advertised as being compatible with tablets, it is, in fact, only optimized for use on a smartphone. Downloading the app on a tablet means using the small, limited smartphone version. Expanding the text to fit a tablet screen results in poor resolution and an unpleasant reading experience.
The Nub has a lot of potential to help build audiences for arts and culture writing. And, for a simple smartphone reading app, it’s well designed. Once it gets a tablet-friendly version, the reading experience will be much improved.