The Future of Magazines

This is an old article, but it’s stuck with me; and now that I’m blogging, why not talk about it?

The print publishing industry is struggling, and the magazine industry is no exception. Publishers have struggled to adjust to the digital age – even those who have embraced the digital format. Reading magazines on tablets, like the iPad, is nearly as cumbersome as reading in print, with its inseparable bundles, page-turning mentality, and copied-and-pasted design.

Their design is bad, but their distribution may be even worse. Take Apple’s Newsstand: each magazine has its own app, and each of those is a hefty file. While you’ll occasionally see supplemental audio or visual content, at their core, these magazines are carbon copies of their print brethren. Not to mention, you can only access individual stories if you subscribe to the whole magazine.

Blogger Hamish McKenzie offers a new idea – not too dissimilar from Spotify – for a game-changing platform to do digital better and profit from it. 

Open the app and see your favorite publications, those that align with your interests, and stories currently buzzed about on social media.

Initially viewing a short blurb about the story – headline, by-line, relevancy, publisher – you can expand to view additional artwork, the first few paragraphs, who has recommended the story, and links to similar stories before clicking through. Of course, you can go the traditional route and purchase the magazine’s entire issue.

As on other social media platforms, you will have a profile where you can view your most recently read and highly recommended stories as well as your favorite magazines and writers. Twitter-style, you can follow other readers and discover new stories through your social connections.

Writers – affiliated with magazines or independent – will have profiles, too. Read their bio, view links to their stories, and perhaps donate, Kickstarter-style. You can follow them so you’ll always know when they publish a new story. For publishers, think Facebook brand pages. Read about their magazines, perhaps catch a glimpse behind the scenes, and subscribe to bundled products.

Third-party apps that offer curated reading lists, like Longreads or The Atlantic’s “Best of Journalism,” can be accessed through the platform, making for an altogether seamless and interactive reading experience. As on an e-reader, you will be able to highlight passages and look up words for easy reference. You will be able to comment on stories, publish to your Facebook profile, and sort through comments based on “friends,” “friends-of-friends,” etc.

Suddenly, you’ll have a magazine reading experience that is both beautifully designed, fully interactive, and centralized.

So now you’re thinking, how will it make money?
As with Spotify and other social media platforms, magazines will be able to publish advertisements within individual stories, and offer preference-based ads on the platform itself. Following the “freemium” model – like Pandora and Hulu – the platform can offer free content of the publishers choosing as well as that of independent authors. This content will be ad-supported and will have monthly reading limits.

The bulk of revenue will come from premium subscribers – think a Netflix-style all-you-can-eat subscription model. For a flat monthly fee, these premium subscribers can access all the magazine journalism their hearts desire. Say this fee is $10 – with a fair long-term estimate of 10 million subscribers (iTunes has 200 million users and Netflix has 23 million streaming subscribers), the platform can generate $100 million monthly. That’s $1.2 billion per year to be divided amongst publishers and the platform owner.

Publishers will certainly resist, and critics will claim it is similar to apps like Flipboard, but this sort of platform would be so much more than those glorified RSS readers, offering an end-to-end reader experience that is both simple and social and bringing magazine publishing staunchly into the digital era.

Obviously this is all conjecture, but if Spotify can unify the music business in a simple-to-use, revenue-generating platform, why shouldn’t the magazine industry have the same? As an ardent magazine fan, and one who often picks and chooses articles rather than reading the lump sum, this sort of app would be a dream come true.

I am so glad Hamish McKenzie of PandoDaily offered this innovative idea, and only hope that someone hurries up and listens.


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