A New Model For Old Media And An Old Model For New Media

- - The Future

Maggwire.com, a company I’ve written about before, has a plan to charge users for a subscription to a channel that sounds really good to me. There should be a way for magazines to sell content in pieces, so people can assemble their own based on their interests. Also, it’s a good way to recapture the readers they will lose when they finally raise the subscription and newsstand prices. The New York Observer has a brief story (here) on the three former Wall Street investment analysts—Ryan Klenovich, 24, Jian Chai, 26, and Steve DeWald, 24—who started Maggwire.com and who want to “do for magazines what iTunes did for music.”

Here’s the pitch: Offer users a year’s subscription to a “channel” where they can get premium magazine content from a series of relevant magazines, for, say, $1.99 a month, with an additional 99 cents per magazine that they want to add to the package. The publishers would keep 75 percent of the profit, and Maggwire would get the rest.

McSweeney’s, which began in 1998 as a literary journal, edited by Dave Eggers, that published only works rejected by other magazines, has grown to be one of the country’s best-read and widely-circulated literary journals. They’ve just announced that No. 33 (available for preorder here) is to be in the form of a daily broadsheet. Yeah, a newspaper that will be 112 pages all in color along with a 112 page magazine, a 116 page books section, a pocket sized weekend guide and 3 pull out posters. The NYTimes reports:

The pages will measure 22 by 15 inches. (Pages of The New York Times, by comparison, are 22 by 11 1/2 inches.) Called San Francisco Panorama, the editors say it is, in large part, homage to an institution that they feel, contrary to conventional wisdom, still has a lot of life in it. Their experience in publishing literary fiction is something of a model.

“People have been saying the short story is dying for a lot longer than they’ve been saying newspapers are dying,” Jordan Bass, managing editor of the quarterly, said in an interview on Tuesday. “But you can still put out a great short-story magazine that people want to grab. The same is true for newspapers.”

As the crusty old corporate magazines continue to die there are people out there forging a new path.

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There Are 22 Comments On This Article.

  1. Interesting. As a relative newbie to the business of photography my brain aches trying to anticipate how the industry is changing and what i can do to stay ahead of the curve.

    Is the still image going the way of the dinosaur? I don’t know. I hope not. Is print media dying? Hard to say. Is there a future in editorial or commercial photography? I’m putting my eggs in that basket (not all of them mind you). Am I wrong? Who knows? No, really, who knows because I’d like to buy them a cup of coffee and have a chat.

    These two stories illustrate (to me anyway) that we’re all just grasping at straws here. No one really knows what to expect in the coming months / years. I’m not sure if that’s encouraging or scary.

  2. Could be good. But Apple already have this in their own pipeline, so how a company like Maggwire fares against Apple, and the publishers themselves, that will launch their own service, is going to be interesting.

    My money’s on Apple.

    Most of all though, there is a future.

    • @Mike Hartley, your comment re. Apple are interesting. What makes you think that Apple “already have this in their own pipeline.” Their public statements (investor related) have bemoaned how they don’t think pursuing what was print media has much upside. Very interest in your thoughts.

      • @Mike, it’s something I follow. I have no real evidence, but there is plenty of rumor evidence an Apple tablet device is developed and ready. At the same time, publishers have been approached by Apple for content: an example. It was obvious 4 years ago we need an ‘iTunes for magazines’ and Apple repeatedly denied it was developing a phone until it shipped it.

        Why would it not?

        • @Mike Hartley, I’ve been following all the news hype pretty closely myself including the NYTimes “slip.” I just don’t see news being the “killer app” for a new Apple product. It will be interesting to see what the hardware really is and what the driving app is. All very fuzzy to me right now. But it is fun to watch. There is something new every day! Thanks for your thoughts.

          • @Mike, I don’t think it is a news format, it is a magazine format or multimedia format app. The tablet will run iPhone OS initially. It will be just like a big iPhone without the phone, or rather, a big iTouch. The driving app will be a custom multimedia app that loads up multimedia items purchased from iTunes that you can thumb through. iMag (????) iMedia (????) iBloodyHopeSo.

            I don’t think in terms of format it will be much ahead of what the web does already, it may even be worse, but there will be a business model, buying either a whole mag or a story that is preconfigured to run in the magazine / multimedia app. Because it runs in an app, and not on the web, the whole thing dodges the free content issue. Although I assume as with iTunes it can either be free or paid.

            The ‘killer’ part of this is the business model. By providing a revenue stream through iTunes, publishers will be able to commit to producing content for the format, and momentum will then take care of the rest. I have also seen discussion of the fact that if the content in the ‘whole mag’ that you can load onto your ‘tablet’ is the same as the print magazine, the ‘whole mag’ on the ‘tablet’ then gets classed as a regular mag purchase and sits in traditional ways of estimating reach for print magazines which means the ads get sold on the back of the print mag CPM which is high rather than a web ad whose CPM is low.

            I know music companies would like to have a competitor, so perhaps the publishers will work with Maggwire, to make sure Apple does not have them by the family jewels.

  3. Using McSweeney’s S.F. Panorama as a prototype, couldn’t there be regular quarterly publications like this for most metropolitan areas? If something like this existed in Seattle, with that kind of quality writing and smart design, I would be sure to buy it each quarter.

  4. I wondered if Apple was going to figure this out in time to reap the profits on it. They fixed the music industry, why not the editorial industry as well? What we need is an iTunes for magazines instead of mp3s. It would work very, very well.

    Glad to see people are thinking about the future instead of screaming about the sky falling though.

    The curious thing will be when this all finally happens, will photographers as a whole demand the fees adjust accordingly?

  5. It looks like some media are getting closer to finding a feasible business model. I think there’s a small, but illustrative, piece that they leave out of the picture, however. Many publications used to be distributed widely through libraries, giving access to a readership far beyond individual paid subscribers. The business models currently being pursued are lowering prices, but doing nothing to recover readership lost as libraries curtailed their subscriptions (which they also paid for, by the way). Publishers need to build in some way either to encourage libraries (and, increasingly, blogs, portals and other online sources) to contribute to their readership bases and revenues, or to enable the purchase of single items by individuals who almost certainly could never be enticed to take out a subscription. There is great potential for the right business model to generate revenues that greatly exceed the former revenues from institutional subscriptions, yet at individual prices that are competitive with the cost of a photocopy and the inconvenience of having to travel to find the article and make the copy. Some scientific journals charge “per article” online, but their rates seem unreasonably high and the process unnecessarily cumbersome. At least they’re trying.

      • @narayan, Magcloud could be one way to get around the production costs side (though you’ll struggle to make much money that way either). Another option is to pitch the whole thing on Kickstarter – a few magazines seem to have managed to fund issue zero that way.

        The good thing is, if your idea has to be realized in print, there’s never been a better time to get into it. Ironic, really.

        • @Andrew, Just remember that advertising makes publications sustainable. I have been involved in four different magazine start-ups, and all failed because they did not have a sales guy pulling in the ad revenues. Obviously great content is needed to keep readers, but great ads will enable great content providers to continue producing.

          • @Gordon Moat, I’d mostly agree. The only proviso I’d add is that it depends what scale of publication you’re creating, how much you think you can charge for it, and how your intended audience will find you.

            If your model relies on a full-time editorial team, paying top dollar for content, 100% newsstand sales at a similar price to mainstream magazines, big subscriber discounts and a big media campaign to launch with, then strong advertising is indeed pretty much the only way you’ll last to issue two and beyond.

            Plenty of small magazines find other ways, however, including getting funding from grants, foundations, charging $15 or more an issue and selling direct to their readers, and/or by running them as hobbies until such a day as they may become profitable. Advertisers may need big circulation figures – but not all publications do.

          • @Chris Schultz, Agreed 100% My comment was not intended solely as a slam on publications. Publications are in business to make money. They will continue to exploit free or almost free content as long as they are allowed to. While questionable morally, it makes perfect sense from a business perspective. It will only change when content providers begin to value their work as it should be valued.

            To use a sports analogy: Fans complain all of the time about ridiculous salaries of pro athletes yet we readily hand over sixty bucks a pop to see a game. They are only paid millions of dollars because the millions of dollars are there to be paid.

            There’s got to be a breaking point somewhere … I hope anyway.

  6. McSweeney’s has been doing super creative, innovative stuff with their “crusty old literary journal” since its inception.

    One important thing to note, however, about the current newspaper-style edition (No. 33) is that it costs $55.00.

  7. I feel bad for these magazines/newspapers. I really do. But I still don’t think many people will EVER pay for a subscription…particularly enough people to make the magazine maintain profitability. As a consumer, if I can get free content, DAILY, from multiple blogs, why would I ever pay for a subscription for similar content? From the publishers perspective, as a blogger and stylist, I am always looking for fresh content. I also understand that having money allows me to produce my own original content, which is an important component of capturing an audience. However, I’ll NEVER charge my readers for a subscription, nor would I ever PAY for a subscription. There are too many freebies out there to make it worth it. Ultimately, I just think the print model is becoming more and more inefficient. (Sadly). As much as I love holding a copy of a magazine, there are only a few that I actually spend money on. Because most magazines aren’t worth purchasing. Don’t you think that a free online mag with paid advertisers allows for a more profitable model? The ROI for advertisers online is so much stronger than print anyway. I’d take live interaction over static print any day! People just need to get smarter about who they allow to advertise on their site…so that they have specific ads geared toward their readership demographic rather than wasting space with useless google ads.