Monday, May 13, 2013

New publisher changes careers and launches a city magazine for Austin – Citygram; self-funded Newsstand app looks to the best interactive magazines for inspiration

If traditional print publishers had an illusions that the new digital platforms would be a mirror of the print world they only need to pay attention to the new apps launched each day into the Apple Newsstand to know that the competitive landscape is changing fast. Not only are dozens of new digital-only publications launching each week, but many are entering categories previously thought to only be of interest to local media companies – such as city/regional magazines.

Launched last week, Citygram is a new city magazine from Austin, Texas, published by Chris Perez under the developer name of Left Right Media LLC. The new digital magazine is a thoroughly professional looking publication that would easily be mistaken for a commercial release from a big name publisher – were it not for the fact that most city/regional magazines being released by the big publishers are dull, replica editions with little to offer new, younger readers.

For Chris Perez, the effort to launch Citygram meant a major career change, from engineer at IBM to new publisher. "It's been a six or seven month operation from getting the concept to building the team to getting it live in the App Store," Perez told me on Friday.

"It required a lot of passion on my part. I was very interested in art, very interested in design and photography. And what appealed to me the most about the magazine format was it was connecting everything I knew."

Perez grew up wanting to be an artist, but a talk with his parents led him down a more practical path, studying engineering at Austin College, and getting a masters in engineering from the University of Michigan before joining IBM.

But Perez decided he wanted to launch his own title and so went about deciding on a digital publishing platform and finding funding. First he looked at the magazine he was reading digitally and wanted the same level of interactivity he found in his favorite titles.

"Why is there not interactivity across the board in magazine apps I read now – one's like Vanity Fair, GQ and Martha Stewart Living?" he asked himself. What he found out was that these titles were using the Adobe DPS to create their tablet editions (though he did look at some other options, as well).

"They had the experience I wanted," Perez said. "I definitely wanted to escape this vision of a digital magazine being a PDF export of print, and being a little hokey with animations and graphics. So I wanted to be professional – my bar (to reach) was to be those national publications on the look and feel. I wanted to be unchained from print, I want to be all digital."

Next Perez tried a Kickstarter project in hopes of raising $10,000. That effort did not succeed and so Perez had to fund Citygram himself.

"It is a little bit expensive. You have to come up with $6,000 up front to be in that professional realm," he said, referring to the cost of Adobe's DPS Newsstand solution. "And when people download it there is an expense, so that's tricky – that's going to be tough to juggle."

Complicating matters is the business model chosen to launch Citygram. The new digital magazine will be free of charge to download and will eventually be supported, Perez hopes, by paid advertising. "You have to take the risk first, no one's going to put money in your favor until you can show them you can release the product and have it out there."

The first issue inside the tablet-only magazine is listed as May-June, but the plan is to publishing monthly. The first issue, which was updated this morning, weighs in at 458 MB, a typical Adobe DPS file size. The issue is portrait only which limits the file size somewhat.

Perez is his own art director, listing himself as Graphic Design & App Development, as well as Founding Editor. His masthead contains a lot of names for a start-up, reflecting, Perez said, Austin's collaborative environment. The only position not listed on the masthead is ad director or salesperson, he'll need one or more of those if Citygram is going to recoup its original investment and survive long term. But Perez is off to a good start and so far is far ahead of where most publishers of city/magazines are in the digital publishing space.

Here is Chris Perez's original Kickstarter video for Citygram: