Monday, October 31, 2011

Mag+ at ABM: Part 1 of a conversation with Mike Haney on the origins of their digital publishing platform and his move from executive editor of Popular Science

Last week American Business Media (ABM) held its a Executive Forum, "Content Matters", which concerned ways publishers and marketers could maximize the use of their print and online content.

One of the newest associate members of ABM is Moving Media+, the Bonnier Corp. spinoff that produces the Mag+ digital publishing platform for touchscreen tablets. Speaking at the event was Mike Haney, U.S. director and a part of the original concept team.

I spoke with Haney about the origins of the Mag+ project and his move from executive editor of Popular Science magazine (part one), as well as the challenges of presenting the new digital platforms, and specifically Mag+, to B2B media executives (part two).

Part One

One of the very first magazine apps developed for the brand new Apple iPad was from Bonnier. The Popular Science iPad edition appeared in the App Store on Friday, April 2, 2010, one day before the first iPads were delivered by UPS to eager buyers. Because of this, my post about the app had to use the screenshots Bonnier had provided in its app description!

One of the key players in the team that developed the digital publishing solution used in that app, and in many of the Bonnier and other magazine publishing company's tablet editions that have followed, is Mike Haney. Previously an executive editor at Popular Science, Haney, a graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, is now touring the country promoting the Mag+ platform.
When I caught up with Haney at the ABM Executive Forum in Chicago, I asked him about the originals of the platform and his move from magazine editor to digital publishing promoter.

"At PopSci, because both our publisher Gregg Hano and our editor Mark Jannot are both very forward looking people, very entrepreneurial, and our creative director – Sam Syed, is that way, as well. We had already, even in the couple years before tablets really came on, started to look at what digital publishing might mean," Haney told me.

"At that time, our context was Zinio, which was our platform," Haney said. "We had started by looking at the iPhone, but really had trouble wrapping our brains around how a magazine, especially like PopSci, infographic heavy, information dense, would translate to the iPhone – so really our frame of reference was the desktop."

This led the PopSci team to begin developing products specifically for digital.

"Sam (Syed) really started exploring what more could you do with Zinio as a platform – they were starting to add some interactivity, some Flash-based things to it – and what happens if you start designing, if you use this platform and design things specifically for the screen they are going to be consumed on."

"That led to a project where we did three special issues on Zinio, they never existed in print. We used Zinio as the distribution method, we called them the PopSci Genius Guides. We initially tried to sell them and then we gave them away," Haney told me.

"They were really our internal experimentation, on the marketing side, the consumer revenue side, a little bit on the ad side," Haney said. "It's a very different way of both presenting and consuming information."

By experimenting with digital platforms, the Popular Science team was one step ahead of a lot of other magazine publishing teams, and had were already thinking about how these digital platforms required a different approach.

Because the editorial and creative teams were leading the charge, it is probably safe to say that they were looking at the issues involved in digital publishing differently than a publisher might.

Back in Sweden, the Bonnier R&D team were moving in a similar direction.

"We learned some very valuable lessons, but that experiment got us on the radar of the R&D team and the folks over in Stockholm who were starting to think about going down this direction," Haney said.

"There were about five or six magazines, across the company globally, where there was an editor and a designer who were part of this early concept and research phase."

I asked Haney about the origins of the tablet concept video that was created in late 2009. The Bonnier video, which featured Jack Schulze from the digital design firm BERG, was first posted on this site in January of 2010.

"The fall of that year (2009) was when we kicked off the project – Sara Öhrvall, head of R&D moved from Stockholm to San Francisco – we started doing conceptual work. At the same time, we contracted with a firm in London. a digital design firm, BERG – a brilliant, brilliant, little firm – and sort of tasked them with doing the same thing along side us," Haney said.

"So we're coming at it as magazine makers and thinking in our space, and they're coming at it as digital designers because they really know the digital space. And all of us are wrestling with what should the magazine be? – and doing these conceptual exercises. How do you represent a story? What does it mean when you can touch? What does it mean when your page is much smaller?"

"So that video is really the product of that work. That was the product of that first three or four months."

Here is that original video:

"Really our idea behind that was 'we're doing all this stuff let's put it (the video) out on the Internet and see what people think. What we got from that was a lot of validation that the ways war were thinking about this were resonating with people. They understood the idea that a magazine experience shouldn't just be a PDF."

It seemed amazing to me, at the time, that Bonnier was producing videos that were working through some of the issues of tablet publishing, well before Steve Jobs even held that iPad launch event in late January of 2010. But then again, it was pretty well known that Apple would be releasing a tablet, and because it would offer third party apps, work needed to begin if there would be publications available on Day One.

For Haney, and the team at Bonnier, the iPad announcement meant it was time to move forward.

"I worked on this project, in its early phases, still as executive editor of Popular Science. But when the iPad was announced we decided that day: we know what we want to do, we've done the video, the concept work is done, all we've got to do now is build it," Haney said.
"We decided that day, let's build it, let's try to be there at launch, and let's launch with PopSci because both Sam and I were the ones who were most involved, we were really tight with it, it seemed like the perfect title within the Bonnier stable to intersect with those early adopters."

That led eventually to Haney moving full time over to the new company.

"So by the time we launched I was spending half my time with this project and not doing my full time job as executive editor. So I left PopSci at that time and went to the R&D department and spent most of last year, from April to the end of the year. in the R&D department – mostly focusing on Mag+ but doing some other projects, as well," Haney said.

"And then when Mag+ was spun off into an independent company this year I left both PopSci and the R&D department and come on to the new company (Moving Media+)."

Haney still contributes to Popular Science, and his name remains on the masthead as Contributing Innovation Editor, but the lure and excitement of the new project was too enticing.

But now Haney represents Mag+ in the U.S. and he speaks at industry events promoting the platform and explaining how it works.

"The creative people love it, they get it right away. They go cool, a new canvas, this is exciting, this is interesting, once I wrap my brain around it. It's the publishers who are going right, but what's the ROI, how do I do this?"

"I was saying to someone recently if this had come along ten years ago when we were flush with advertising cash, when we were making all kinds of money on all our media brands, it would be different," Haney said. "This came along at a time when we were tightening, everybody is coming out of the recession going 'this is awesome, I want it to work, I need it to work, it's a new channel, but I don't have a ton of extra money to put into this. How do I do it in lean, efficient kind of way. And they're (publishers) still struggling with that question."