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Under Old Management

By Glenn Fleishman

The Magazine’s founder Marco Arment has had a complicated few weeks. On April 25, he sold a majority interest in Instapaper to Betaworks and gave them all the operational responsibility. This came five years after he launched Instapaper as a service to the general public. On May 19, Yahoo voted to spend $1.1 billion to acquire Tumblr, a blogging platform and social network that Marco had helped to create as David Karp’s first (and, for years, sole) employee.

Marco posted on his blog some really lovely and interesting thoughts about its formation and development — along with great photos that tell the story almost as well. Marco worked for David’s consulting firm starting in 2006. It transformed into Tumblr, where he remained until 2010, when he left to focus on Instapaper full time.

And in mid-May, Aperiodical LLC, a sprawling colossus of a single-member limited liability company in Washington State, secretly voted 1-0 to acquire The Magazine from Marco, effective on June 1. There were no abstentions.

Write it later

Marco created The Magazine as an experiment. He loves to both write and read at length; his blog is a product of the former interest, and Instapaper was an outgrowth of the latter. In 2009, Marco added what was originally known as Give Me Something to Read but is now called The Feature, a daily curated set of articles that is part of Instapaper. He thought about extending The Feature into its own app, but decided that it might wind up running afoul of some App Store rules.

Instead, he took the logical next step: he created The Magazine and commissioned original content for it to take advantage of the ease of launching. It was immediately successful, for which Marco was and is grateful, as am I. We remain in a robust and rosy area of revenue versus expense.

In a way, however, it was successful too fast: Marco already had Instapaper on his plate, and when I applied for a job as editor of the publication — a job that didn’t exist — he said yes. I’ve handled most of the rough-and-tumble editorial work since issue #2, while Marco has been the emperor of final article selection, acted as art director, and managed the software and business side of things. (Marco has the distinct and cruel advantage of being a terrific writer, podcaster, photographer, and programmer. It’s simply unfair, I tell you.)

With Instapaper off his plate, it was clear The Magazine would consume much more of his time in areas that don’t interest him while also requiring more use of outside staff to expand in scope. As he and I presciently talked about on my podcast The New Disruptors back in April, he prefers projects that are big in reach but small enough to handle himself.

Thus Mr. Arment, in effect, built and incubated the publication, and your faithful editor — as of June 1, editor and publisher — is the beneficiary of that work, which I shall cherish and shepherd. Marco will be an advisor, and I will listen to him, as we all might. Marco has made a variety of interesting decisions in his life that have given him both personal fulfillment and personal success. He’s not telling me yet what he’s working on next, and I can’t wait to see it unveiled before Marissa Mayer buys it and removes its vowels.1

Ch-ch-ch-no-changes

So what’s going to change, you ask? On the editorial side, very little initially. We — more on that “we” in a moment — are committed to the same schedule of five features every two weeks, designed to appeal to folks with a broad curiosity (and an interest in technology) who want to learn things they don’t already know and to hear points of view they may not routinely encounter. I plan to keep the same subscription-funded approach, and the price will stay the same: $1.99 a month.2 We’ll be adding yearly subscriptions soon, and a whole lot more.

We keep refining what both fits within our rubric and appeals most to readers, and you’ll see that continue to gain focus over time. But I’ll have a little help from my friends with all the rest. Quite a few friends, actually.

The first of these is Brittany Shoot, our first managing editor, who will handle author queries and take over some editing duties. You may recall her name from “Pinball Wizards” (Issue #14), a feature about the resurgence of interest in playing pinball, in which those interested in finding machines to play are aided by a Web site and an app. She’s a writer, photographer, and editor who has reported from four continents and who recently moved back to the States after three years in Copenhagen. She is currently ranked 2682nd worldwide by the International Flipper Pinball Association. She also talks as fast as I do, which is a real plus.

I also want to thank at this juncture Scout Festa, who has acted as our de facto staff proofreader since about Issue #4. She’s a freelance copy editor and proofreader in San Francisco, and I can recommend her unhesitatingly.3 She has kept us looking good, even with last-minute requests for read-throughs, and will continue on.

Louie Mantia and the Pacific Helm design firm worked with Marco on the app and provided the original Web site design, and Louie has designed every cover. They will continue to work with us as we expand features on the Web site and update the app. (And, yes, we’re going to show those covers much more prominently in the future, as many of you have asked.)

Aged & Distilled has agreed to handle the iOS development work. That’s Guy English and Chris Parrish, the creators of the Napkin app for Mac OS X and lots of other fine bespoke work. We have short-term and long-term plans based on your feedback over the last few months. Watch for updates in the App Store. Guy contributed “Fireballed” to the first issue of the The Magazine.

This summer, we’ll pass the milestone of publishing 100 articles since inception, and launch a crowdfunding campaign to turn the most interesting and best-liked writing, photography, and illustration so far into a magazine-like print volume — no irony intended! We’ll also commission new art and features for it. Jessica Simmons of Simmons Ardell will design the collection. Jessica formerly worked at sister design firms Walter Glaser Inc and WBMG in New York, and had her hands on the design of many national magazines. The collection will naturally be available as a digital download, but we’ll take advantage of modern printing to produce something spectacularly analog. The better the Kickstarter campaign, the bigger the collection and more printing options we can add to it.

I’m a programmer of many years’ standing — everything from machine language and assembly to Pascal, C, and FORTRAN to perl and PHP — and I spent much of May revising the Web site’s design and front-end (mostly PHP and JavaScript aided by jQuery). The changes will be live within the week. (Yes, we have search now!) Dean Putney, one of the folks who runs the innards of BoingBoing, has agreed to take on more of the heavy lifting related to subscriptions, downloads, and purchases.

If that’s not enough, we’ll also be launching a podcast this summer. Today’s reporters typically gather photos, audio, and video, and we publish words with still images and graphics. The podcast will include reporters as guests talking about their essays and features, and also interviews by reporters of their subjects. The podcast will be produced as a standalone show that doesn’t require that a listener read the related articles, but will be a nice supplement to the regular issues’ content. We’ll be linking more multimedia to The Magazine in ways that don’t bloat the downloads, which remain small — and we plan to keep them that way.

Thanks for your support

That’s just what we’re ready to announce for now. If I told you everything that’s under discussion, we’d be here all day. It’s an exciting time to be developing an electronic, born-digital publication. I’m happy to take the torch passed by Marco, and keep on running.

It’s not part of the sale agreement, but I want to tell you all that Marco Arment is a hell of a guy. For someone who didn’t want to have employees and thinks he’s a terrible boss, he’s among the best I’ve had. We were a great team running this newborn beast. This is the best job I’ve ever had; I love it immensely, and I thank all of you for reading and subscribing.


  1. Contrary to rumors, Hops is not for sale. 

  2. Apple lets us charge in the app weekly or monthly or yearly. With an every-two-weeks schedule, that means subscribers get three issues in a month twice a year. Your next “bonus” is in July. 

  3. Email me for a referral.