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April 17 2012

13:32

Spain's iPad Mag, Vis à Vis, Shows Growth, Points to New Path

In a small office in Alcala Street, in the center of Madrid, a team of seven young entrepreneurial journalists are working overtime to produce the next issue of digital magazine Vis à Vis.

Conceived exclusively for the iPad and launched in January, Vis à Vis is an interactive, visual and modern publication that wants to reinvent journalism.

The first edition of the magazine recorded up to 42,000 downloads. The third edition was released on April 1, and the team's expectations are very high.

"Journalism is going through a phase in which either you undertake your own idea or you have to conform to the reality of market," said Laura Blanco, the magazine's editor in chief.

Together with Ángel Anaya, she holds the reins of this initiative that forged its roots during their first year at college. The seven editorial staff members are between 23 and 25 years old and studied together in the Spanish city of Valencia. After working on a project involving the editing of a print magazine, they decided to launch their own publication online.

"With the emergence of digital platforms, the entire printed press industry started wobbling," Blanco said.

When the iPad appeared on the market, she and her colleagues realized that it would be a suitable platform for a lifestyle magazine, because it could combine quality content with interactive features.

"In August [2011] we reached Madrid with much uncertainty, but with a lot of hope and enthusiasm," Anaya said. He confessed that the magazine is "his creation" and passionately narrated the gestation process of the idea. In the beginning, the group of friends had to rely on family support to fund their project. When they asked for a small bank loan, they were told that they were "too young to take that risk."

"Free Forever"

Vis à Vis is exclusively edited for the iPad, with all the possibilities that it offers, and a distinctive feature is that it's free of charge. "Free forever," reads its motto.

"Nowadays, it is very difficult to ask people to pay for something they know they can have for free," Anaya said. That is why he bet fully on the digital environment from the start. "In addition, we had observed over the years that tablet readers' profiles were moving from executives with high purchasing power to young readers."

The magazine's content consists of interviews with prominent figures in the areas of sports, television, fashion or gastronomy, presented in a personal "vis à vis" (face to face) setting. "We try to create a special atmosphere with each character. Interviews are always done in a kind of 'petit comité'," Blanco said.



Who's behind Vis à Vis? A meeting with the editorial team. Video: Gina Gulberti


Vis à Vis runs on a basic concept: All content types must be able to be consumed at different times of the day. "From extensive articles that you can read calmly at home during the weekend, up to short and more visual articles that you can rapidly go through on the bus or on the underground, that's what Vis à Vis is all about: a magazine that escapes the ephemeral concept of the paper," Blanco said.

The editorial team relies fundamentally on the power of social networks for its advertising strategy. "Word of mouth worked very fast," Anaya said. The first issue of the magazine launched on January 4 and recorded about 42,000 downloads. In February, the second issue had already reached approximately 38,000 readers within two weeks.

For the third edition, the team has already secured the first advertisements that will finance the project. "Brands are seeing a great advertising potential in the interactivity offered by the iPad," Anaya said. "They are contacting us directly."

Reinventing journalism

Thanks to their enthusiasm, Anaya and his colleagues have gradually overcome, step by step, the challenges posed by a society very anchored in the printed press. Some people have praised the magazine as a great initiative promoting journalism, while others have shown more skepticism with regards to long-term development of the project. Other times, though, some people have become so excited with the project that they have offered to help.

"It is a risky venture to undertake a business in times of crisis. But if you don't do it, you will never be able to aspire to anything better," Blanco said.


image
Laura Blanco and Ángel Anaya hold the reins of the initiative.


While Blanco and her colleagues don't see their magazine's only-for-iPad design as a restriction, they don't reject the possibility of producing future versions of the magazine for other platforms. "We are covering a market in full expansion," Anaya said.

The figures seem to prove it: Last February, Apple registered 25 billion downloads from its App Store, and the recent launch of the iPad 3, or New iPad, has beaten records worldwide, with more than 3 million sales in the first four days.

In a media world that's evolving, Vis à Vis relies on two crucial elements for its success: the enthusiasm in reinventing a distribution model and the obstinate belief in the possibility of a new way of doing journalism.

Gina Gulberti holds a Master's degree in Multimedia Journalism. In 2011, she obtained a Robert Shumann scholarship for journalists and worked for the audiovisual unit of the European Parliament in Brussels. She has worked for different Spanish media outlets such as RNE (public Spanish radio), Onda Cero radio and ADN journal. Her interests include Web 2.0., audiovisual production, European policies and independent journalism. Now based in Madrid, she is collaborating with digital newspapers while working for the press office of La Fourchette in Spain.

ejc-logo small.jpgThis piece was originally published by the European Journalism Centre, an independent non-profit institute dedicated to the highest standards in journalism, primarily through the further training of journalists and media professionals. Follow @ejcnet for Twitter updates, here on Facebook and on the EJC Online Journalism Community.

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November 22 2010

15:00

With its new food blog, WordPress gets into the content-curation game

This month, the company associated with one of the world’s most popular blogging platforms took its first, quiet step into the realm of for-profit content aggregation. FoodPress, a human-curated recipe blog, is a collaboration between blogging giant WordPress.com and Federated Media, a company that provides advertising to blogs and also brokers more sophisticated sponsorship deals. Lindt chocolate is already advertising on the site.

“We have a huge pool of really motivated and awesome food bloggers,” explained Joy Victory, WordPress’ editorial czar. (Yes, that is, delightfully, her official title.) Food was a natural starting place for a content vertical.

If the FoodPress model takes off, it could be the beginning of a series of WordPress content verticals covering different topics. WordPress.com currently hosts more than 15.1 million blogs, and when the FoodPress launch was announced, excited WordPress commenters were already asking for additional themed pages on subjects like art, restaurants, and beer.

(To clarify the sometimes confusing nomenclature: WordPress the blogging software — sometimes called WordPress.org — is free, open source, and installed on your own web server; we use it under the hood here at the Lab. WordPress.com is a for-profit venture offering a hosted version of WordPress software, owned by Automattic, which was founded by WordPress developer Matt Mullenweg. FoodPress is a WordPress.com project.)

For now, though, FoodPress’ creators are keeping their focus on their first blog and seeing what kind of traffic and advertising interest it attracts — the start-small-then-scale approach. And one question that remains to be answered in this first experimental effort is how WordPress bloggers will respond to the monetization of their content, and whether featured bloggers will want compensation beyond the additional traffic they’re likely to receive.

So far, the response from users has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, Victory said. While the familiar issue of blogger compensation has been raised in response to the new venture, “our users don’t seem concerned so far,” she said. Instead, they’re largely excited about the possibility of even more themed sites. Advertising is already a part of WordPress.com, Victory pointed out, popping up on individual WordPress blogs unless a user is signed into WordPress itself.

WordPress’ venture into the editorial realm is significant on its own merits, but it also provides a fascinating case study in how media jobs have proliferated even as the news industry suffers. Victory used to work for metro newspapers, as did Federated Media’s Neil Chase. Now the two are working on a project that brings atomized pieces of user-created content together as a singular web publication. (FoodPress’ tagline: “Serving up the hottest dishes on WordPress.com.”)

Victory is optimistic about this “new way of looking at journalism” — even though, she said, “I consider myself someone who has left traditional journalism behind.” But while some of the FoodPress content is aggregated automatically, Victory believes as well in the value of human curation in creating a good user experience — a sentiment shared among many in the burgeoning ranks of web curators. (Up to now, WordPress’ content curation has focused mainly on Freshly Pressed, a collection of featured blog posts on the site’s homepage, which Victory hand-selects daily.) And to bring more editorial oversight to FoodPress, Federated Media turned to one of its affiliated bloggers, Jane Maynard, to oversee the project — a paid, part-time position.

The blog won’t be just an experiment in curation, though; it will also be a case study in collaboration. “It’s the first step in what we think will be a critical partnership,” Chase noted — one that emerged organically from the collaboration-minded, conversational world of San Francisco-based startups. And just as Federated Media and Automattic have shared the duties of creating the site, he said, they will also share the revenue FoodPress generates.

As for the expectations for that revenue? Victory isn’t releasing traffic stats for FoodPress at this point — both she and Chase were hesitant to talk too much about a project still in beta testing — but noted that the site’s social media presence is growing, with, as of this posting, more than 1,400 Facebook “Likes” and 1,200 Twitter followers. The rest will, like a recipe itself, develop over time. “This is a little bit of an experiment for us,” Victory said. “And we’re hoping it’s wildly successful.”

May 19 2010

14:00

Huffington talks convergence, and “monetizeable free”

We wrote yesterday about The Washington Post taking a page from The Huffington Post in building blog networks on the content-for-exposure-not-cash model. But the borrowing isn’t all going in one direction. In this conversation with Texas Tribune boss Evan Smith, HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington says she sees a broader narrative of convergence, where “legacy media” (her term) and the startups are moving in similar directions. The Washington Post might be looking to leverage free content, but she’s hired reporters and launched a non-profit investigative unit — decisions that look more traditional than new.

Smith interviewed Huffington in honor of the political site’s fifth anniversary last week. The site recently hit 13 million monthly unique visitors, pushing it ahead of The Washington Post and USA Today and within shouting distance of The New York Times. Here’s what Huffington had to say about changes in media, particularly the difference between mainstream media and bloggers in the last five years:

Well, first of all, I think what’s happening now is more of a convergence. When we launched The Huffington Post, we were worlds apart. There was the legacy media that were very, very skeptical about blogging, or the future of online media. And there were the startups like The Huffington Post. Now The New York Times is doing a lot online. They’re doing a lot of great things online. And we are hiring more and more reporters. And we have launched The Huffington Post Investigative Fund, which is a not-for-profit operation that does many of the long-form, more traditional journalistic investigative pieces. So I think we’re moving toward a hybrid model, where those who recognize we are living in a brave new world — it’s about the link economy, it’s not about paywalls — are going to actually survive and thrive. And those of us who recognize that the traditional tenets of journalism — fairness, accuracy, fact checking — need to prevail and be supplemented by all the new technical tools and the new citizen engagement are also going to survive and thrive.

The Huffington Post has a clear interest in making sure the link economy thrives and paywalls aren’t erected. Aside from its countless bloggers, the biggest draw of her site is the aggregation the site’s editors do on each vertical, which have expanded from a single front page to more than 20.

Smith also quizzed Huffington on keeping HuffPo a free site. She was quick to point out that “the culture of free” is “monetizable free.” The site is expected to become profitable this year.

We are, as I said, paying all our reporters and all our editors. People who want to write, in the same way you would write an op-ed for The New York Times or The Washington Post, do it whenever they want. They are not our employees. They have no obligation to us. We have no expectations. It’s they who want to post, because they want to disseminate what they’re thinking. Whether it’s on politics or food, we have thousands of requests to post, thousands more than we have the opportunity and ability to process — beyond the 6,000 bloggers who have a password and can post whenever they want. And then our editors decide what they’re going to feature on the home section or the other sections…

We pay them in visibility. We pay them in that we provide the infrastructure, the community, the civil environment into which their work appears. The traffic. And then also the fact that many in the media have the site bookmarked means that they’re going to be seen, not just by many people, but many of the people they may want to reach to go on TV, to get a book contract. We love it. We all love it on the site when we get a call from an agent saying “Can you get us in touch with so-and-so blogger?” In many ways, it becomes like an addition platform.

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