Thursday, September 8, 2011

Once Magazine tries out the same business plan as Nomad, sharing subscription revenue with contributors

This is certainly a time of experimentation in digital publishing, where publishers try and figure out which business models will work for the web, mobile media and tablet publishing. Once Magazine, the San Francisco-based photo-journalism magazine started by Jackson Solway, is attempting to launch using pretty much the same business model as that being used by Nomad Editions: the publisher shares subscription revenue with their contributors.

At Nomad Editions, the publisher is the one with the platform and the contributors are those that create new "magazines", all designed in a similar fashion by the publisher's design team. Nomad Editions then adds the magazine to its own iPad newsstand and when readers subscribe to a particular title Nomad shares some of the revenue with the "publisher" of the individual title.
The model at Once Magazine is somewhat similar: each issue of the tablet magazine is made up of three photography features. The photographer will then get a share of the subscription revenue collected for that particular issue.

If one were cynical one could say it is a cheap way to get content. But let's be a believer and say that this is a potentially revolutionary way of paying photographers.

What we realized was simple: photographs look great on the iPad. Long-form narrative photography has a broad audience but has outgrown the cost and presentation of traditional print. Through new storytelling techniques only possible on digital platforms like the iPad, Once allows photographers to tell their stories in full.

In every issue, we publish three stories of about twenty-five full-screen photographs with captions, an introductory text essay, and interactive features. Our editors work closely with photographers and writers to develop an engaging narrative that is not possible in print. The stories are not centered on a specific theme or location, but chosen for their narrative appeal, journalistic insight, and photographic quality. 
A viable publishing platform in the digital age calls for a new business model. Along with new marketing strategies and delivery methods, we prioritize contributors: we split all subscription revenue directly with photographers.
– from the Once Magazine website
As for the app, it launched about two weeks ago while TNM was in hibernation and so far the app has gotten a bit of press, as well as 42 five-star reviews (though one often wonders about these things).

The app weighs in at only 55.6 MB, a pretty small size for a photography app. The reason for this is that the magazine offers only landscape view – probably a pretty good decision since most photographs use this orientation. There is only animation on the cover – the word "Once" being written out. After that the layouts are pretty standard. There is, however, some embedded audio, which is nicely used.

The app shows that you don't have to go overboard with programming.

The app is free to download, and like the British Journal of Photography app previously written about (see the previous post) this one gives you the "pilot issue" free. According to the story in the Bay Citizen, the plan is to charge $2.99 for future issues (for this issue the photographers were paid a flat fee).
Left: an animated GIF of the TOC showing the three photo features; Right: a typical feature layout with both photography and text, this one with some embedded audio content.

A look at the staff page at the end of the Once Magazine app makes one's jaw drop – I counted sixteen names, not counting the "advisors" and design team (which makes one sense that this app wasn't developed in-house).

So this app is the polar opposite of Letter to Jane, the indy magazine from Tim Moore. Moore, out of Portland, Oregon, is essentially a one-man show who has taught himself how to create an iPad app and has three editions so far in the App Store.

For Once Magazine, Jackson used ProFounder to raise funds to get things started, and certainly one doubts that all these people are actually on payroll. Additionally, some of the positions titles makes one giggle a bit (for instance, in addition to a CEO there is also a "publisher", though that person's only previous job out of college was as manager of a wine tour). So hopefully the cash bleeding won't be too bad because one would like to see more start-ups like this one, attempts to see if new business models can work for the new tablet platform.