The world of publishing is currently going through a major period of change. Publishers are constantly starting up, closing, or trying out some new business model.
When Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. launched the iPad-only newspaper "The Daily" back in 2011, many in the media business thought they saw a potential future model to follow. It combined the traditional daily newspaper with the multimedia capabilities of web apps and packaged them into a slick format designed for the iPad.
When The Daily closed in late 2012, we saw that there were some fundamental problems with the technical and business aspects of the publication.
While the app was convenient to download and subscribe to via Apple's Newsstand, individual issues required massive downloads. The publication's 100,000 paid subscribers weren't even close to the the 500,000 needed to break even, and that's with advertising revenue to boot.
The failure of The Daily provides an interesting perspective with which to look at another publication on Apple's Newsstand: The Magazine, which " publishes five medium-length articles every two weeks on a wide variety of subjects of interest to curious people."
There are no staff writers at The Magazine — all articles are pitched to the editors on a freelance basis and approved writers are paid $800 plus expenses incurred while reported. As opposed to The Daily's media-rich layout, reading articles in The Magazine is akin to reading an article saved in a read-later app like Pocket or Instapaper.
And unlike media outlets that try to crank out as much content as possible, The Magazine has strictly stuck to its pace of five articles every two weeks. According to Glenn Fleishman, The Magazine's owner and editor, that's because people prefer a number of articles that they can casually read through before the next issue.
"It's like people who subscribe to The New Yorker and have stacks of issues sitting around the house," he says. "People get stressed out when they feel they have to finish all of the articles."
This isn't the first comparison Fleishman has made between The Magazine and The New Yorker. Fleishman, who has been executive editor at the publication since the beginning and purchased it outright from Marco Arment earlier this year for an undisclosed sum, claims that the publication aims to be "The New Yorker for tech geeks."
That isn't to say that The Magazine is just another source of tech news and reviews. Instead, many of its articles tell the tales of interesting individuals and their obsessions — from a guy who's building an accurately-scaled Millenium Falcon from Star Wars (but happens to live a pretty normal life outside of his hobby) to a visit to a historical site that details how difficult it really is to teach the realities of life hundreds of years ago.
These individuals may not be obsessed with the same topics as The Magazine's audience, but that's okay. What's important is how they think about the subjects that are important to them. Any tech geek who's spent hours comparing gadgets online when trying to make a buying decision can sympathize with the guy who obsesses over finding the best method to remove the air bubbles from the ice he puts in his drinks.
Whereas The Daily blew through about $500,000 per week while it was being published, articles in The Magazine cost about $2,000 each when all factors are accounted for — the writer's fee, expenses, photography or illustration, and editing. All told, that brings the overall costs at The Magazine to roughly $20,000 per month.
The relatively low cost to run The Magazine means that it can charge fewer subscribers less money and still be sustainable. Subscribers pay $2 per month or $20 per year and the app contains no advertising, though Glenn notes that he won't rule out the possibility that it could one day make an appearance.
While this model has proven sustainable, it does have a few downsides. There are a number of technical features that Glenn and The Magazine's readers would love to see, like the ability to search articles within the iOS app or to highlight older articles for new subscribers to read, that simply aren't feasible to implement right away on its shoestring budget.
As Mr. Fleishman points out, he's not an iPhone/iPad developer. While Marco Arment already had quite a bit of experience with developing apps centered around reading thanks to his work on Instapaper, Glenn has to bring in an outside contractor when he wants to roll out new features. This means that features have to be planned out far ahead of time and implemented when they can.
That isn't to say that the model doesn't allow for experimentation. Beginning with this week's anniversary issue, The Magazine is partnering with Boing Boing, an independent blog and "Directory of Wonderful Things."
An article from each new issue of The Magazine will also run on Boing Boing. This arrangement works out for both sides — The Magazine gets more exposure, and Boing Boing gets a cheap source of high-quality, medium-length content. Fleishman declined to comment on whether either side receives payment for this arrangement.
The Magazine's barebones approach isn't the sexiest out there. It doesn't integrate video, audio, or advanced social media functions. It doesn't bring in millions in advertising revenue. But bloggers, especially those that are generally considered part of the "Apple blogosphere," can't get enough.
That's why Jim Dalrymple, the Apple blogger best-known for confirming company rumors with a simple "Yep," started a similar magazine of his own back in May. To build it, Dalrymple used TypeEngine, a software kit that removes many of the technical hurdles for creating a magazine for Newsstand.
It's not just the format that appeals to these bloggers — notably, one of the templates available within TypeEngine is an almost-exact replica of the layout used by The Magazine.
The flashy, bold approach News Corp took with The Daily looked like a winner upon its release. In reality, The Magazine shows us that while people love video and breaking news, there's room in people's schedules (and budgets) for something a bit more "literary," something that you can sit down and read when the the endless stream of news and content from Twitter is too much.
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