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June 28 2013


ProPublica introduces a magazine to reach new readers on mobile

propublicamagProPublica wants to get in the magazine business.

The investigative news nonprofit is launching a monthly digital magazine for iOS devices that will collect the best of its reporting on current topics in the news. The first issue of ProPublica The Magazine, “In the Crosshairs,” is focused on war and gun violence, with stories on drone strikes and the Guatemalan civil war.

ProPublica The Magazine is free and will be delivered via Apple’s Newsstand. And that, more than developing a new line of revenue, is the point for ProPublica: finding a new avenue to reach readers. Specifically, as ProPublica president Dick Tofel told me, to get mobile readers.

“The real point is this puts us in the Newsstand, that pushes us to people, which we hope is a big plus,” he said.

As a news organization, ProPublica has always used partnerships with others to spread its work to new readers. But as the site has matured, staffers have invested more time in building their own audience. A big area of desired growth, Tofel told me, is in mobile, and on iOS devices in particular.

The way Tofel sees it, the magazine is like a monthly version of ProPublica’s work packaging stories for ebooks. But the magazine will allow ProPublica to be a little more timely, while also being thematic around issues that are important to readers. Or, Tofel puts it another way, “It’s a little like This American Life, where he does those multi-story episodes.”

ProPublica is not alone in wanting to develop a product that can repackage reporting and is a good fit for mobile devices. Earlier in June, The Atlantic introduced The Atlantic Weekly, which collects the work of The Atlantic, The Atlantic Wire, and The Atlantic Cities for $2.99 a month. ProPublica partnered with 29th Street Publishing to create the magazine. The company, which has also helped publishers like The Awl create magazines for iOS, uses a relatively lightweight CMS that makes it easy for publishers to transform existing stories into mobile-friendly reads.

Since ProPublica isn’t bringing on additional staff to produce the monthly magazine, they needed something easy to use, said Krista Kjellman Schmidt, ProPublica’s deputy news apps editor. Schmidt will be responsible for preparing the magazine each month, working with other editors to identify a theme and combing through ProPublica’s archive to select the best stories. Schmidt said she’s already at work on the second issue, which looks at race and housing in America. “These stories we’re trying to patch together in a new way so readers can see the long arc of an investigation,” she said.

Schmidt said the magazine is an experiment for ProPublica. While they have an iPhone app, many readers also prefer reading the site on a mobile browser. The magazine puts ProPublica into another venue on iOS devices in Newsstand, setting it up to be discovered by new readers. The richer magazine-like design encourages publishers to find new ways to curate stories and push users to read deeply, she said. Schmidt said they decided to deliver the magazine monthly to gauge reader interest and how the production process fits into their other routines. She said they’ll evaluate the project over the course of the next year.

February 16 2011


How the Kindle Made Single-Story Sales a Reality for Magazines

I've never seen a "Not for Individual Sale" label on a magazine story. So why can't I buy most individual magazine articles in digital form just yet?

Selling stand-alone stories has seemed like a potential business model for magazines and other journalism organizations since the rise of iTunes. Observers hyped an incipient micropayment business model for journalism. But few companies have tried this model, instead offering complete digital editions and, whenever possible, digital subscriptions. The advantages of that approach are clear: packaging more into the product justifies a higher price, and loyal subscribers attract advertisers. Yet with the growth of e-reading on tablets and mobile devices, as well as new options for processing small payments for content (e.g., PayPal, Facebook, Apple's App Store), marketing individual stories may soon gain fresh appeal.

Magazines exploring this option would have to maintain their brand reputation and their editorial voice by carefully selecting stories to sell and ensuring that they respect their relationship with existing readers. Recent experiments with selling individual stories show, however, that it can be done successfully. The only cloud on the horizon could be Apple's new subscription service for iOS, which demands that the company gets 30% of all subscription sales.

Relying on Brand Strength

Well-known magazine The Atlantic ended its monthly publishing of short fiction in 2005, and now offers a single fiction issue yearly. However, the magazine, founded in 1857, wanted to explore other ways to continue its legacy of publishing fiction, and so recently finished a year-long experiment that made two short stories per month available exclusively on the Kindle. These were labeled on Amazon as Atlantic Fiction for Kindle.

atlantic_kindle final.jpg

"We wanted to recommit last year to being a purveyor of great fiction," said Scott Havens, Atlantic Media's vice president for digital strategy and operations. "It was an opportunistic play to further our entrance in the fiction market and to test out a new platform."

The Atlantic's access to established writers, such as Joyce Carol Oates and Paul Theroux, was a significant part of its success. Havens said the popularity of each individual story correlated to the prior popularity and "salability" of their writers. When Amazon customers searched for those authors' work, The Atlantic stories also came up in the results.

Overall, Havens said, Atlantic Kindle for Fiction "was a worthwhile effort, and it was a successful financial venture for us." The Atlantic is now working on new ventures for other digital platforms, and the complete magazine remains a top seller on the Kindle.

Success of 'One Story'

Clearly, The Atlantic's pre-existing brand strength and its ability to involve recognized authors factored into its achievement. However, smaller ventures can also establish a reputation for quality. One Story is a non-profit that publishes one story every three weeks in print format, and also publishes them on the Kindle, where One Story is ranked 19th among bestselling magazines.

one_story final.jpg

Maribeth Batcha, publisher and co-founder of One Story, said that after just a year of availability, readership on the Kindle was as high as the print edition's readership after four years of publication. Kindle and print readers receive a new story every three weeks, representing varied styles and genres.

"There is not a 'type' of story we publish," said Batcha. "We'll really publish anything, but it has to feel pretty meaty and hold its own. It needs to feel like you've gotten a whole artistic experience."

The magazine will only publish an author once, and yet it still has a recognizable character as a publication.

"Over time, people develop a relationship with a magazine....It's not between the reader and the individual story," Batcha said. "There has to be some way you define your curatorial voice. People want choice, but not too much choice."

For mainstream, established magazines, this may be a major challenge in attempting single-story sales. Can a lone story express enough of an editorial identity to appeal to readers on its own? Editors must select stories strong enough to stand alone not only for their quality and timelessness, but also for their ability to effectively communicate to readers the magazine's distinctive larger brand and "curatorial" identity.

Building a Passionate Audience

One Story also counts on the audience's passion for writing itself. The magazine's readers, Batcha said, are "serious." The non-profit magazine seeks donations and is partly grant-funded. It has also organized writing workshops and encourages educational uses of the magazine to promote the short story to young audiences.

A new project that sells individual stories is also hoping that readers' support for substantial, long-form writing and its writers will lead to success. The Atavist, which launched January 26, publishes stand-alone, in-depth non-fiction articles that are longer than most magazine pieces, especially given today's ever-shorter features. The articles, priced at $2.99, are available through the publication's iPad/iPhone apps, as well as on the Kindle and Nook e-readers. Income from the stories is shared between The Atavist and the authors.


"People don't think readers want [long stories]...but we thought there was an opportunity on the [smart]phone to give people this kind of story that they couldn't get anywhere else," said Evan Ratliff, editor of The Atavist and an award-winning magazine writer. "I do think there's a group of readers who'd like to support writers and creative people in general. If you say a lot of this money is going to the writers, [readers] know who made it and know where the money is going."

Ratliff describes The Atavist's approach as a "hybrid" between magazines and books. "We take some elements from one model and some from others. We're taking our editorial approach from magazines. We have fact-checkers just like at a major weekly or monthly magazine," he said. "We're taking a book approach in the way the story is told. It can have a nice arc to it, and it can have chapters more substantial than magazine sections."

The Atavist is not affiliated with a print magazine, though its founders are interested in partnering with both established and startup book and magazine publishers. There may also be advertising possibilities, though their style may depend on readers' preferences.

"Magazine readers are really amenable to advertising, but book readers are not. It's acceptable in one place, but not in the other," Ratliff said.

The Atavist is also part of a new Amazon venture called Kindle Singles, which Amazon says "allow a single killer idea -- well researched, well argued and well illustrated -- to be expressed at its natural length," generally from 5,000 to 30,000 words. In addition to the two non-fiction stories published as Singles by The Atavist, Amazon also has published short story collections and novellas as Singles, as well as non-fiction pieces based on TED talks. Amazon is taking submissions for Singles not just from the public, but also from publishers, making it possible that magazines and other established publications could sell individual long-form stories as Singles.

Choosing and Packaging Stories to Sell

One reason most journalism organizations haven't attempted a pay-per-story model, even in the form of micropayments, is that breaking news is available in so many places for free. However, these experiments show that readers may be willing to pay for timeless content that offers an immersive experience, as do long-form non-fiction storytelling and short fiction.

"You can't just take a type of article or a piece of work that is very similar to other things you can find for free on the web and ask people to pay for it," said Ratliff. "That's when people get mad. 'Why are you charging me $1.99 for this news?' We're offering a different proposition that offers something unique, that reads to you almost like fiction, except it's true."

The Atavist includes substantial multimedia in its stories -- such as photos, videos, maps, timelines, audio, and slideshows -- which smoothly integrate with the articles' text. One Story is also considering developing short videos -- such as author interviews -- to accompany its fiction. Right now, established print magazines have little incentive to create multimedia to supplement their stories, since most print readers won't go online to check out associated multimedia after they finish reading. However, adding multimedia enhancements for particular stories could make selling them singly more intriguing to readers and more profitable.

If magazine publishers can identify stories that provide rich, deep reading experiences, and then add engaging multimedia to develop that experience even further, they may be able to leverage their brands and editorial authority to market individual stories successfully. Other possibilities might include packaging stories on one topic together in one download, or combining stories from different magazines in a collaborative product. Individual stories or packages of stories can be sold through apps, websites, and vendors like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

However, the iPad and iPhone might become more difficult platforms for single-serve content if Apple keeps a large percentage of the subscription price. It announced a 30% cut for all subscriptions sold in-app, which has brought an avalanche of bad press for Apple. We'll see if that deal holds, or whether competing subscription services, such as Google One Pass pressure Apple to loosen restrictions.

Given the relative ease of repurposing digital content and the limitless possibilities offered by multimedia, magazine publishers may have an opportunity to reach a bigger audience on multiple platforms. If these ventures flourish, it will be simply because readers love to lose themselves in a good story.

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on magazines and media communities. She also blogs at sivekmedia.com, and is the magazine correspondent for MediaShift.

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August 09 2010


Gourmet Live, Quilting eMag Rethink Magazines in Digital Form

In an earlier age, we learned new skills as apprentices to master craftspeople, absorbing expertise by working side by side. Today, though, you might be more likely to learn a new craft or skill from a website or through a social media buddy -- or even from a digital magazine.

Traditional print magazines that teach hands-on skills are extending their content and brands into new digital applications that make developing your abilities more like working alongside a pro instead of a static, one-way experience. These digital products present text, audio, video, slideshows and social components of these skills in ways print can't. Yet as these magazines experiment with new products, they also demonstrate all the challenges magazines face as they develop complex multimedia products that are more than just digital copies of print content.

Virtually Hands-On

Interweave Press, publisher of a variety of art and crafting magazines, launched what it calls an "eMag" in June. The eMag, affiliated with its magazine Quilting Arts, is titled Quilting Arts in Stitches, and covers advanced quilting techniques. The eMag is actually a 320-megabyte application that the user downloads and installs. The download costs $14.97, while a print copy of a typical issue of Quilting Arts is $7.99 on the newsstand.

Once installed, the application runs on the Adobe AIR platform. The clean, colorful design, created with Flash and InDesign, offers multiple ways of navigating and viewing the eMag's content.


Significantly, this product is not a digital replica of the Quilting Arts magazine. Instead, it combines a custom-designed interface with some magazine-like features, such as a "cover," an editor's letter, a table of contents in a sidebar, and numbered articles instead of page numbers. Inside the stories, however, embedded audio, video and slideshows bring the topics to life and give users a close-up view of the quilting skills described.

"When someone is working at their sewing machine, they can have the magazine there, but it's still a little bit static," said Pokey Bolton, editorial director of Quilting Arts magazine and for the eMag. "They can't see hands moving, or their sewing machine working,"

With digital, though, the boundaries are diminished, according to Bolton. "You get this intimate hands-on experience watching someone work in their studio, a master quilter at work."


In developing the eMag, Bolton says the staff first considered which topics would be the best fit for more "kinesthetic" multimedia presentations. "As an editor, I had to think about it differently," she said. "This is the deliverable. How am I going to tailor the editorial accordingly? We really wanted to use all the tools, not just make something that was showy just for the sake of having it in digital."

The quilting techniques covered in the eMag are both technical and artistic, and not easily communicated in print, Bolton explained. In print, the story "would have just been a static experience -- some exercises with a caption. But with a video, you see it as a whole. There are certain things you can explore as an editor in a digital format that go above and beyond a printed format."

The eMag also includes a social component, though it's not integrated with the usual online social networks. Instead, it provides instructions for a small project that readers are encouraged to make and then trade with other quilters through a "swap" run through the Quilting Arts office. Bolton said this project created "a sense of community" among eMag readers.

Planning for the Future

Though advertising wasn't included in the first issue, Interweave will offer sponsorship and advertising opportunities in future eMags, and plans to encourage advertisers to create ads that use the unique advantages of the eMag format. The positive feedback on the eMag from the magazine's existing audience will likely help bring in those advertisers. The print magazine has a circulation of about 80,000, and the eMag sold "a few thousand" downloads in its first few weeks on sale, according to Interweave. However, Bolton reported that, along with the magazine industry, the audience is also trying to adapt to new digital formats.

"Our audience too is trying to wrap their heads around a digital product such as this," she said. "People love the print magazine, and they love the eMag, and they want to be able to print aspects of the eMag."

Printing isn't an option in this eMag, though project materials lists can be saved as PDFs and then printed.

The eMag may also relieve some quilters' frustrations by offering a nearly hands-on experience of their craft. "If you go to a quilt show, you're so tempted to touch a quilt, but it's kind of a rule to keep your hands off," Bolton said. "But you want to feel that texture. We can replicate that experience and [let users] see that stitch up close."

Interweave plans to release eMags associated with some of its other print products in the coming year.

Gourmet Live(s)

Another magazine brand to take on a new digital form is Gourmet. Last incarnated in print in November 2009, the legendary magazine will be reborn in fall 2010 as Gourmet Live, an interactive HTML5 application that will offer food-related multimedia with added social features. (I covered the death of the print magazine in a previous MediaShift story.)


Though the Gourmet Live demo video on the web shows the application on an iPad and demonstrates its touch-based interface, the application will work on other platforms as well, according to Juliana Stock, creative marketing director for Condé Nast Consumer Marketing. "We intentionally developed it so we'd be able to proliferate it as quickly as we can across a variety of platforms," Stock said.

The application will include the same kinds of content that Gourmet did in print, including articles and recipes, but will also feature video and photo slideshows. Like the Interweave eMag, the application doesn't resemble a magazine with "pages" that turn, but instead allows the user to touch and swipe photos and icons to operate the application. Some content will be drawn from Gourmet's archives, complemented by new content developed for the application.

The application will use readers' individual food and cooking interests to shape their experience. A novel component of Gourmet Live will be its "gameplay" approach of selecting and pushing content to the user. The application features real-time curation, meaning that it will constantly modify its content in response to the user's preferences, information, current location, past experience in the application, and so on.

"Based on a variety of variables, we can serve the user a different experience every time," said Stock, noting that this makes the application feel more game-like to its users, rather than simply a fixed document.

Another unique aspect of Gourmet Live will be its social features, Stock said, which will permit users to share content with their existing networks. Users will sign on using Facebook or Twitter. This social component, according to Stock, is intended to "parallel the social aspects of a meal."


Gourmet Live is also planning to incorporate sponsored content from advertisers into the application that ideally will feel like "part of the experience," Stock said.

Parallel Projects, Same Challenges

Craft and cooking magazines seem to be perfect genres for experimenting with shaping formerly print content into compelling, useful digital products. The Interweave eMag and Gourmet Live projects reveal some of the difficult decisions magazine publishers are having to make as they create innovative digital products.

Those challenges include the choice of platform (for example, Adobe versus HTML5), the selection of the best content for the chosen format, the integration of dynamic and interesting advertising, and the development of social features to maximize readers' desire to interact around the magazine's content. Because there isn't an established path to success in any of these areas yet, publishers have to stay flexible and explore alternative routes.

"I come from a print background, and I'm learning alongside every other editor and publisher in this business who's adjusting to this digital age - to the iPad, to having all kinds of readers, to what people want," said Bolton of Quilting Arts. "It's a paradigm shift in thinking, to really understanding all the things you can do in digital. We're trying to articulate something that really hasn't been done yet."

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