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Issue #9 January 31, 2013 Jan 31, 2013 Jan 31
Issue #1 October 11, 2012 Oct 11, 2012 Oct 11
 
 
 
From Issue #2 October 25, 2012

Obvious

An update on The Magazine.

By Marco Arment Twitter icon App.net icon 

In the Foreword, I wrote:

I’m starting this with a staff of one. I can develop the app, procure and edit the articles, and write occasional articles myself. There’s no venture capital funding, no corporate backer, and very little starting capital. My biggest fixed cost is the up-front design and development of the app, and my biggest recurring cost is paying writers. If it doesn’t turn a profit within two months — just four issues — I’ll shut it down. …

All of this is a bit crazy, and it’s not guaranteed to succeed. But I bet it will.

Great news: With a successful launch and strong positive feedback, The Magazine has reached its goal already. The vast majority of initial subscribers stayed after their free trials ended, so The Magazine now has a strong enough subscriber base to be financially sustainable.

Even more satisfyingly (to me, at least), I’ve been able to retroactively raise the author payment rate to be competitive with print magazines. My goal was to reach that level after a few months, but it only took a week.

This was important to me because I don’t believe in doing free or underpaid work for “exposure” or “experience”, and I don’t want to ask that of anyone else. If I’m making a business of publishing authors’ work, they deserve to be paid a professional rate. And in the future, my goal is to raise the rate above what print magazines pay.

Paying writers well isn’t just a moral goal: it will ensure that The Magazine is able to attract great writers and publish great articles.

Subscriptions are strong enough that I’m also exploring other potential expansions for the near future, such as more articles per issue,1 professional editing, and illustrations.

I’m keeping the every-two-weeks publishing schedule for the foreseeable future. I’d rather make each issue better than try to rush them together more frequently.

And in the coming days, I’m submitting an app update with easier subscription management, more browser options, and link-sharing improvements.

Diversity

Most of The Magazine’s initial feedback was positive, but one common complaint is the lack of author diversity.

I didn’t want to publicize The Magazine until it launched, and I needed to fill the first few issues without having a firm launch (or payment) date in mind for the authors, since I didn’t know how long it would take to develop, polish, get approved, and launch.2

The requirements for secrecy and article flexibility led me to ask people I already knew, so the authors in the first four issues are mostly blog writers you’ve already heard of in the Apple-and-related genre.

Now that The Magazine has launched, I’m soliciting pitches and reviewing great submissions from hundreds of new authors. You’ll start to see their work soon.

Risk

The only other significant complaint3 was that my approach with The Magazine was a low risk. Of course that works. It’s safe. It’s obvious. People with this view were disappointed that it wasn’t more radical or revolutionary.

After it launched to a strong, immediate, nearly universally positive reception, it did indeed seem safe. I didn’t think it was a risk after it launched, either.

But it was certainly a risk for an individual app developer, with no experience soliciting articles from writers or editing a publication, to take three months of time away from a successful product in a highly competitive market to start a magazine in 2012 with the requirement that it actually become profitable.

It was also a risk to create a magazine app with an interface that looked and worked nothing like any other newspaper or magazine in the App Store (which says something about its obviousness), and with almost none of the custom layouts, multimedia features, and other “extras” that people expect magazines to have. Until it was approved, I didn’t even know whether Apple would permit such an app in Newsstand since it was so clearly unlike most magazines.

It was a risk to release an app that can only exist in Newsstand, full of paid writing, to an audience that’s predominantly people who have a surplus of free reading material and bury their empty Newsstand folders on their last screen of apps.

When I started working on this in August, it was definitely a risk. And until a few hours after it launched, I didn’t know whether it was going to be successful and well-received, or a huge waste of three months and a lot of money.

Success

In hindsight, it was obvious, but only because it succeeded. Had it been received poorly, its failure would have seemed obvious in hindsight, too. Of course that wouldn’t work.

The iPad seemed obvious in hindsight. But consider the “tablet” market in 2009, shortly before the first iPad was announced. iPods had been huge hits and the iPhone was extremely successful and growing rapidly, so the pressure on Apple’s “next big thing” was immense. The iPad was nothing like prior tablet computers, and with so many people owning both a smartphone and a laptop, nobody was really sure how big the market was for a device that sat in the middle and couldn’t replace either.4

Before Apple launched it and it became an immediate success, the iPad was far from obvious and far more risky than most people think today. Now, all tablets look like the iPad because it’s so obvious.5

Therefore, I consider these complaints seriously, but also interpret them as unintentional long-term compliments. Since some people thought that this risky project was “safe” and “obvious” after it launched, I think The Magazine has a bright future.

Thank you so much to all of you who have subscribed and made The Magazine successful so far. I hope you’ve enjoyed Issue 2, and I can’t wait to show you more.


  1. This issue has four original articles, one adaptation of a blog post, and this update, which I don’t count. 

  2. My initial deadline for articles was August 31. The Magazine launched on October 11, and authors were paid (with the retroactive raise) the following week. 

  3. Other than first-generation iPad owners upset that The Magazine requires iOS 6. Requiring iOS 6 remains a difficult decision: adding iOS 5 support will please first-generation iPad owners now, but will hinder development, new features, and testing over time.

    I believe the nature of auto-renewing subscriptions will make raising the required OS version difficult in the future, so I’m choosing the much cleaner path of just requiring iOS 6 from the start. 

  4. Apple also couldn’t have predicted developer adoption of iPad-optimized apps. We ended up creating them pretty quickly, but the iPad could have ended up more like most Android tablets: running scaled-up phone apps most of the time because very few apps have tablet-native interfaces. 

  5. Much of this can also be said for the iPhone, a smartphone that launched with no keyboard, no removable battery, no 3G, no MMS, and no third-party apps. And if you wanted one in the U.S. in its first three years, your only choice was the most disliked carrier in the country. 

Marco is the founder of The Magazine and Instapaper, and the author of Marco.org. Formerly, Marco cofounded Tumblr and served as its lead developer for its first four years. He serves as The Magazine's inspiration and advisor.

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