Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why corporate publishers need to pay attention to "The Magazine" and other citizen publishing efforts

If you read my previous post about the new digital magazine from Instapaper developer Marco Arment (below), you might have thought that I was dismissing the new publication because of its minimalist approach to digital publishing. No, I was merely giving Arment's new app the same walk-through that I would any other.

But the rise of digital publishing on mobile and tablets, like the web, has opened up publishing to those outside the traditional publishing industry, and corporate media professionals need to take note.

A great many publishing executives will no doubt see efforts like Arment's, or Australian Coran Woodmass's digital wine magazine, as either amateur efforts or as real threats to their businesses.
This is the way most old media executives look at the world: is the "new" a threat or something to be ignored. Far too few look at the opportunities.

In some ways, I was surprised to see Arment launch a magazine under his own name. His "brand", if you will, is pretty large. Many people are familiar with his work and know his blog. If websites like The Next Web or Engadget have launched tablet-only magazines into the Apple Newsstand, you would think the logical next step would be to launch more. And why wouldn't someone like Arment approach one of these media properties with the idea of launching a magazine? The media property can offer editing, production and most importantly, ad sales.

The opportunity here is volume: the ability to launch lots of magazines and see what sticks. One of the weaknesses of the Nomad Editions model was that it limited the number of title launches, made too big a deal out of each one rather than attempting make it in volume.

In many ways, the tablet platform reminds me a bit of the music business of the sixties. Records labels were searching for the next big thing, but had no clue where to look. They missed The Beatles and didn't want to miss the next one. So a lot of interesting, and a lot of really bad music got released. I remain amazed that Soft Machine was signed to Columbia, the label of Johnny Mathis and Mitch Miller. But it was 1969, who knew if a pop band morphing into a jazz band might not be the next big thing – it wasn't, but five great LPs were released that are available still today.

What these citizen publishing efforts can show the attentive publisher is that not every new publication has to involve The Daily sized investments, expensive digital publishing platforms, or even additions to the payroll. I bet if Condé Nast or AOL had approached Arment with an equity deal he'd have jumped on it faster than you can delete an app.

We are still in an era of experimentation, it is why in his foreword Arment would only commit to publishing four issues - let's try it and see what happens.

Smart publishing companies should look at this approach and realize that the old model of magazine launches might not be appropriate in an age of smartphones and tablets.