8020 Publishing is a revolutionary new hybrid media company, bringing the best of magazines and the web together. We harness the diversity and depth of online communities to create printed magazines that are uniquely relevant and insightful.

We Don't Blow

Posted by Paul Cloutier on 23 June 2007 (Essays)

One of the most common complaints about magazines is the blow-in card. Well, the truth is we hate them too. In fact, in JPG magazine we run a little house ad titled “We Don't Blow” that explains why we don't have blow-in cards. Here's what it says:

You know 'em – they fall out of every magazine on the rack. They’re called "blow-in cards" and they suck. They litter the aisles and annoy magazine readers worldwide. So we don’t use them. Instead, we just say this: If you like this magazine - and we hope you do - please subscribe. It’s just $24.99 for 6 issues a year (US) and you can subscribe on our website without wasting any paper.

We don't blow

There are lots of things the magazine industry needs to change, and this was one little peeve that was personally gratifying to fix. Blow-in cards are like the printed version of pop-up ads on the web. Getting rid of them just makes reading the magazine a better experience, which is the philosophy behind everything we do.

Subscribing through the website also introduces you to the community. It allows you to become aquatinted with the concept, become a member and hopefully a participant; blow-in cards encourage passivity.

We think that this is just one more way the web can be used to improve magazines: highlight experience and inspiration in the printed magazine, and utilize the web for depth and action.

The Future of Magazines Has Never Looked Better

Posted by Paul Cloutier on 12 February 2007 (Essays)

Josh Norem, a former editor of Maximum PC, says that the web is going to make magazines extinct because they can't compete with the timeliness, the infinite amount of space, and the cost structure of the web. This should be of concern to us, after all we are a new publishing company that is betting on the future of the printed magazine. Well, we pretty much agree with his points. But rather than seeing this as the demise of magazines, we see this as an opportunity to embrace the web and make magazines better.

We see a bright future for magazines, and in order to be successful a publisher must accept the following points.

Magazines cannot compete with the timeliness of the web. This is true: there is no arguing that it takes a good deal of time to produce a printed work and therefore a magazine can never really beat the web to a story. This doesn't mean that magazines have lost an advantage they always had, it means that magazines have always failed at getting timely data. The web was designed explicitly for the purpose of sharing timely data and almost immediately it has been embraced as the best way to learn about something in depth.

A magazine that is not about ephemeral data becomes much more about inspiration and discovery. A magazine does serendipity really well—you can flip to a random page and find something new that you never would have thought to search for. Magazines should be tactile, inspirational, and beautiful. They should be an experience that takes you somewhere unexpected.

Takeaway: Do not compete with the web for data and timeliness, instead focus on a magazine’s strengths of inspiration and discovery.

The web has an infinite amount of pages. Again, this is unassailable. The web allows for virtually everything anyone has ever said or written to be cataloged and made searchable. However, the imposed scarcity in a magazine, with only a select number of pages, is one of the things that makes magazines really interesting. Each page should inspire a person to want to find out more—and when someone is ready to find out more—the web is there, ready to do what it does best, provide crazy amounts of in-depth information.

We see this as a central part of how to make a magazine: recognizing that the web has to be a huge part of the process. It can no longer be seen as only a marketing tool or just a subscription engine, but rather the heart of the whole system. Every story and photo that we publish starts out on the website. After being vetted by the community, the best of that work gets published as a sort of beautiful artifact of the community’s interest. This artifact then serves as a summation of what the community has created but also as a way to start the process over again by inspiring people to dig in deeper on the web site.

In a community, scarcity is a common motivator. Think of the Digg home page or Flickr's interestingness. All publishing systems are set up to find the most interesting contributions, and the promise of being featured is a powerful driver of participation leading to more focus and quality.

Takeaway: Use the scarcity of pages to your advantage and recognize that the web and print are both parts of the equation.

It is cheaper to produce a website than a magazine. Printing a magazine costs money, but the cost of making a printed magazine is much more than just printing bills. You have writers, editors, assistant editors, department editors, publishers, publishers assistants, photographers, ad sales managers, ad sales people, designers, the list goes on. One of the reasons it is cheaper for a publisher to start a web-only magazine is that web-only magazine startups generally eschew all of the traditional staff and structure of publishing in order to do things more efficiently. The entire editorial process is changing from a centralized staff intensive process to a much more agile software based method. Most publishers have not yet grasped this and are still employing the cost structure of production that they have used for the last 50 years.

Another reason magazines have struggled is the zero sum game of driving the cost of production down. We believe strongly in the idea that magazines are about inspiration and experience. So it's hard to have much sympathy for publishers complaining that their audiences are flocking to the web while at the same time printing on the lowest quality paper with 40–50 pages of ads and advertorial.

One of the most interesting parts of launching a magazine after years of launching websites is that we are actually selling a physical thing. We don't have to convince people to sign up for a premium membership or to pay us for something that didn't cost anything to distribute. We are selling people something they are familiar with: a physical product, a magazine. People seem to be pretty comfortable paying for something they can hold in their hands.

Takeaway: Embrace the lightweight cost structure of the web to reinvent the way magazines are created.

The central tenet of Norem's article is that magazines cannot compete with the web. In reality magazines are not the same as the web—they do such different things, both as a part of the journalistic ecosystem. The day we realize that this is not about web vs. print is the day we will free up magazines to do what they do best.

The web is not going to make magazines go away, it is going to make them better.

A Tale of Three Communities

Posted by Derek Powazek on 31 October 2006 (Essays)

One of the many gifts of our increasingly networked world is the diminishing boundaries between communities. And the magazine business is about to get hit by a boundary-blurring tidal wave.

It's already started. What's the difference between NBC and Joe Everynerd on MySpace or YouTube? They're all just usernames - each with an equal chance of getting seen. The traditional roles of content creator and consumer have been irrevocably blurred.

Magazines, on the other hand, still have very high walls between their writers and readers. The writers and editors enjoy the illusion that they do something no one else can. The readers, then, have only one job: to consume the product.

But if the internet has taught us anything, it's that the world is full of people who know a lot more than you do about something. Think up any niche and you'll find a site out there, powered by some lone geek, with everything you ever wanted to know. Whether it's knowing what's cute or how to build a monorail, it's all out there.

The internet has also taught us that when all those people with all those diverse interests come together, they can pool their knowledge together to make amazing things. Think Wikipedia or Digg. Given the right tools, crowds can truly be wise.

The magazine business was built on scarcity and inequality. The editors guarded the gates of the printing press to make sure that only the best ideas got in. They had to - there was only so much paper.

But online, there's a scarcity of scarcity. Web pages, unlike paper, scroll to be as long as they need to be. The gatekeepers have no mandate here. And, as a result, we've seen a flowering of authentic media the likes of which the world has never seen.

The online world has created a culture of creation among ordinary people. Meanwhile, magazines are still partying like it's 1899. Writers write, readers read, and never the twain shall meet.

Simply put, this can't last.

Magazines need to open their doors to their readers. Instead of thinking of writers and readers as two separate communities, magazines need to realize that they really only have one community: the people who give a shit about their magazine.

Traditionally, magazines have three communities they care about: readers, writers, and advertisers. The readers (or "subscribers") are the largest audience. A magazine's goal is always to grow this audience to be as large as possible, since the bigger the number, the more the magazine can charge the advertisers. Oddly, though, the reader community is given the fewest tools (you can subscribe and, uh, subscribe some more) and the least access (write a letter to the editor and maybe we'll read it).

Conventional wisdom in the magazine biz is that revenue from subscribers is a write-off. You're much more valuable as a subscriber to increase ad revenue than to actually pay for your subscription. This is why you can subscribe to most mainstream magazine for less per issue than it costs to get the issue to you. But the result of these economics is that you, as a subscriber, are the least important person in the equation. The only part of you that's valuable is is your eyeballs, and only when you're looking at ads. Is it any wonder, then, that most magazines treat their subscribers like sheep?

The second community is writers and editors. This exclusive club is tolerated only so long as they pull in readers, but it's a tiny fraction of the size of the reader community. As smart and talented as this group might be, they could never be as smart as the reader community, if it was properly empowered.

The third community is advertisers, and here is where the power really lies in the magazine publishing biz. Advertising is where the vast majority of the revenue comes from, so it's their interests that are served. The smallest community has the most access, and their primary motivation has nothing to do with the health of the reader community or the integrity of the writer community. All they want to do is have as much impact on the reader as possible.

Is it any wonder that magazine readership is down industry-wide? The most important community is the least served.

Here at 8020, we want to change the way magazines get made. We believe that our magazines don't have three communities, they have one. And within that community, there will be different layers. Some people will mostly consume, and that's okay. But they should always know that the day they want to contribute, or even advertise, they can.

Then there will be people who want to contribute. But, of course, those people also consume. That's why they want to contribute! So all they need is the right interface to contribute. If I learned anything in my research for Design for Community, it's that good content is the best fertilizer for online community.

There's another community segment that's very important in this recipe: The organizers. These are the people who want to rate and blog, comment and tag. These are the people who vote on JPG submissions right now - the very same people who "Digg" and blog and bookmark on other sites - and they're hugely important to the lifeblood of the web. Of course, many of these organizers don't just organize: they also create. That's just another reason to treat the magazine community holistically.

Then there are the advertisers. We're not anti-advertising, of course. We just think that they should be as involved in the community as everyone else. If they really want access, they have to pay for it by contributing to the health of the community. In JPG, our first program to do this is Sponsored Themes, where the sponsor gives the community another chance to get published. Our next issue features the Embrace the Blur theme, which is sponsored by Lensbabies. And, at the end, they're going to give brand new Lensbabies to the people who get published. This is the kind of community involvement we want to inspire - and it's just the beginning.

And finally, there are the editors. (And here I'm speaking as the editor of JPG.) We editors are just going to have to get over ourselves a little bit. We have to admit we're not always the smartest person on the net. When you treat your writers and readers as one community, your job becomes less about being the arbiter of everything and more about being a good community manager. Your role is to inspire, encourage, and assist the community in producing the magazine.

Some great things happen when these three communities become one. You can no longer treat your readers like sheep, because if you do they'll leave. When your community makes your magazine, you have to give them as much respect and reward as you give your editors (that's why we pay the people we publish in JPG). You can no longer tell advertisers one thing and the readers another (a development advertisers should love). And you can no longer limit the power to contribute to just your writers. Everyone has a voice, and the ability to help sort the good from the great.

The internet has empowered a generation of media consumers to become media producers, and the result is unquestionably awesome. It's time to take that empowerment and awesomeness into the magazine world. It's only a matter of time.