The Rise of “Magging”

by Ben Bajarin   |   May 10th, 2013

Something very interesting is happening in the publishing world, or at least something I think is interesting. The rise of quality digital screens like the iPad and Kindle, along with the ease of distribution through app stores, has opened the door to new breeds of digital magazines. Before such devices like the iPad or Kindle, the production cost of a printed quality magazine made the barrier to entry quite high. While production costs still exist they are far lower and thus opens the door to new players doing interesting things.

In the tech world, sites like Engadget with Distro or The Next Web Magazine are examples of tech sites doing interesting things with their brand. There are two, however, I want to point out and make some observations on.

The first is The Magazine which was created and released by Instapaper creator Marco Arment. I jumped on the premise with the first edition of the Magazine and I have loved everyone. Marco points out in his forward that when The Magazine started it was geared to be about technology related subjects that tech geeks found interesting, written by tech writers. But then, Marco points out, they evolved and broadened the scope to all good writers, writing interesting stories. That is exactly what The Magazine is. Its a return to quality long form writing across a range of subjects. The Magazine is one of the few apps in my Newsstand where when a new edition appears, I make time to read it in its entirety the same day.

Yesterday Jim Dalrymple took on a magazine endeavor all his own called The Loop Magazine. I have the great privilege of contributing an article to the launch edition of the Loop Magazine and I encourage you to check it out. I read the Loop Magazine all they way through and it is going to be another must read for me.

Apple was on the forefront of desktop publishing and they are again on the forefront of the next publishing revolution.

What we are witnessing, I believe, is the evolution of publishing. I’m not sure I would fully consider what has gone on with blogs as the future of publishing. They certainly played a role in bringing digital publishing to where we are but I don’t believe we are where we need to be. The Magazine and The Loop Magazine offer up insight as to how publishing could evolve. I’m loosely calling this term “Magging” until I come up with something better. These are not blogs, but they are highly curated–and highly edited–platforms for quality long form content. This can lead to the discovery of new authors or content sources in which readers can get more from the author through books, media, or other forms of content. Perhaps some of those authors will launch “mags” of their own. This is the opportunity of this new medium. Interestingly Apple was on the forefront of desktop publishing and they are again on the forefront of the next publishing revolution.

What I like about this trend is that it opens the door for many of these digital “mags” to exist and serve all kinds of readers of all interest levels. I sincerely hope Marco, Jim, and all others who go down this road are extremely successful. The world needs good writers and story tellers. Many criticized the blogs and predicted they would kill quality curated editorial content. Andrew Keen made this case in his book The Cult of the Amateur. I was on a panel with Andrew many years ago regarding this subject and we had a fierce debate. Let’s hope that the return to long form writing, and the business models that can sustain them, proves to be the anti-thesis of Andrew’s premise. Hopefully this trend will lead to the cult of the professional.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • steve_wildstrom

    “Curated” is not the right term. Curation implies picking and choosing for a collection. Magazines are edited, and that is a big difference in their favor. Having spent many years both editing and being edited, I’ve learned that editors can add great value.

    • benbajarin

      This is true, they are both curated and edited to keep the experience premium.

    • http://www.tablazines.com Tablazines

      I agree and this is why I hate with when anything having to do with Flipboard is called “magazines”. Those are NOT magazines.

  • scottsiegling

    I agree with Steve Wildstrom, “edited” is a better term than “curated.” “Curated” has a certain pretense which has become popular in tech circles in recent years, and in my opinion, has been generally overused. Edited with high standards and good taste?

    • steve_wildstrom

      I spent many years as a magazine editor. We never thought of ourselves as curators, but content selection was the biggest part of the job. Of course, a physical magazine has so many columns of editorial space and you have to choose what goes in them. Sometimes it’s unfortunate that there are no such limits on time. I used to read TechCrunch regularly–disagreed with it a lot, but read it. Now they are running so many articles, and so many of them are marginal, that I just don’t have time to wade through it.

      Editors serve a different function. They enforce style and good English. But most important, they keep writers honest by asking questions like “are you sure?” The most important thing an editor needs is a good BS detector. Alas, the art of editing is in a sad decline these days and with it, the quality of a llot of writing (including my own, since no one can truly edit his own copy.)

  • Rich

    Ben,

    This isn’t about magazines but it’s closely related. I’ve seen a lot of opinion on another tech Website about the dilemma of newspapers. I’d like your opinion on two questions:

    (1) On the subject of paywalls, I think they’re an attempt to make the readers solve the newspaper’s financial problem, and are a bad concept because the readers don’t care about the newspaper’s problem. It’s not the readers’ fault that the paper lost advertising. Instead of putting up paywalls, what the paper should do is offer new material or activities that’s attractive enough to convince readers to pay for it – but *only* for the new material or activities. How do you see this question?

    (2) What do you think will happen to newspapers in the next 5 years?

    • steve_wildstrom

      I’m going to jump in because I spent a long time in the publishing business, though mostly at magazines.

      Historically, newspaper readers barely paid for content. I remember not all that long ago when the Washington Post cost 25 cents on weekdays. It’s really only in recent years that major papers started charging $1 or more. so making content free on the web was not as aberrant as a lot of people thought.

      In the economics of magazines, the goal was to have circulation pay for itself. That is, subscriptions and newsstand sales were expected to cover the cost of printing, distribution, and maybe customer acquisition. The cost of the content was paid by advertising.

      That model broke down in the last decade or so. The problems of newspapers and magazines are somewhat different, but in both cases, print advertising declined sharply and online advertising came nowhere close to making it up. The only other likely source of revenue is the readers.

      Most newspapers exacerbated their problems by diluting the product, which, frankly, often wasn’t very good to begin with. I subscribe to the Washington Post mainly from force of habit; it’s barely worth reading most days, and it’s still one of the best papers in the country. It’s no accident that the only two newspapers that really seem to be doing pretty well with a paywall are the two with the strongest contents, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The real tragedy here is the decline of local news coverage almost everywhere (and don’t get me started on the quality of local TV news.)

      The next five years: I think print editions of local papers will continue to disappear. The economics of print will never get better. I see little evidence that advertisers are willing to pay enough for online ads to fund much journalism, so papers will have to find a way to make paid content work to survive. (I do think the print Times and Journal will still be around in five years, but maybe not 10.)

    • benbajarin

      I’m glad Steve jumped in, as I think he has more to say about this than me, and he has been around the block more :)

      From my standpoint newspapers in print or online via paywall never offered any value. In fact if you look back historically to when they got started and were found valuable, it was because there were A) regional and B) they had interesting value adds to the news due to personal perspective. They also invested in unique content. An example which comes to mind is the narrative journalism of Truman Capote, which led to some great content, including In Cold Blood.

      My personal belief is that the value was tied to the quality and the fact that these papers were the only way to get the news. Nearly every value proposition I can think of that existed with newspapers, is no longer exclusive to them and often better and cheaper on the web.

      What I like about things like the Magazine and the Loop Magazine are both its curation and its editing. They are hand picking people with ideas that strike the editors as interesting and then working with writers to achieve the vision they have for the content.

      I agree with Steve, in that I have no idea what the traditional news org’s do. Although I can tell you that we get more than a few inquiries from traditional outlets to distribute our content among their tech areas. They just don’t want to pay for it.

  • fusionlab

    You are raising some good points. We currently publish a photography magazine on the iPad/Newsstand called VIEW Magazine ( http://appstore.com/viewmagazine ) and so far experimented with three different publishing system. We are trying to figure out what’s the best system for our needs as small publishers, balancing quality and production price. Earlier this year we decided to a free subscription model and will now shift to a per issue sponsorship model, instead of charging readers to subscribe or download. While we love publishing a magazine under our own curation and decisions, it’s more of an artistic endeavor since we don’t have the promotional prowess of “The Magazine” or “The Loop”. They can charge for content but in our experience people find it very hard to commit to even a $3.99 yearly subscription… It will be interesting to see how publishing will continue to shift in the next few years with all those issues in the mix.

  • http://www.tablazines.com Tablazines

    Tech writers are so quick to tout something different as the “evolution of something….”. I like The Magazine. I see it as another side of the same die. The Magazine style and form works well for IT’S content, that doesn’t mean that it will work for ALL content.