The Magazine is Not the Experiment

Posted at — Oct 15, 2012

The Mac and iOS community got in all of a tizzy late last week following the announcement of Marco Arment’s latest project - The Magazine, a foray into the world of publishing through the channel of the iOS Newsstand application. The basic premise is simple: a monthly subscription of $1.99 delivers you two issues per month direct to your iOS device. Each issue contains 4 editorials produced by a variety of writers.

The reaction to the launch has been favourable; not just for the actual product itself but the concept as well. Federico Viticci (Macstories) thinks that "…The Magazine is a promising and notable initiative…". Matthew Panzarino (The Next Web) described it as "…a template for the future of lightweight Newsstand publications." Numerous comments across Twitter and praised the initiative and suggested that it was an experiment in publishing.

Marco himself has described The Magazine as “new and experimental” and has set himself a limit for determining the success or failure for the “experiment”:

If it doesn’t turn a profit within two months — just four issues — I’ll shut it down.

I think the praise is deserved - the application is a great reading environment, the writing is of a high quality, and the pricing is favourable. And while I agree that this could be a new business model for publishing I do not agree that Marco’s venture is how we should determine if the model can truly be successful.

A Controlled Environment

To truly judge the success of an experiment or trial it must be carried out in a controlled manner and The Magazine is far from being launched in such a manner. Marco Arment is best known for being the creator of Instapaper, and a co-founder of Tumblr. He has a very successful podcast called Build and Analyze on the 5by5 network. He writes a successful blog for which he can command sponsorship revenues. Marco is justifiably a bit of a celebrity in the Apple world and arguably in wider technology circles.

Like any astute businessman, Marco has been drumming up interest in his new venture for some time now, primarily through his podcast and to his many Twitter followers. It may not be a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, but Marco has enough of a loyal following to all but guarantee the success of The Magazine, in the short term at least.

That is not the only ace The Magazine has up it’s sleeve: the opening lineup of writers includes well-established players such as Jason Snell, Michael Lopp and Guy English. Marco has invited submissions from other writers with openings starting from issue four suggesting that the roster of big name writers may be set up for most of his four-issue trial period.

The Real Experiment

The Magazine is great for the readers, great for the writers and ultimately great for Marco; it should be a huge success. It’s not so great for other budding publishers waiting to see if the business model works, especially if they don’t have the following that Marco has, or the access to top writing talent.

It reminds me of artists like Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails experimenting with self-publishing and distribution. They declare it a success when they sell a lot of copies and state it to be the future of music publishing. It’s not so easy for the up-and-coming artist who doesn’t have the established fanbase or production talent.

In my opinion the real experiment here is not the success or failure of The Magazine. It is instead in the success or failure of Marco Arment to diversify from his roots as a developer of software into a curator, an editor and a publisher. He has expressed a dissatisfaction with writing software in the past and his forays into podcasting, writing and public speaking have indicated a desire to get away from the coal face.

I hope that The Magazine succeeds because it places an emphasis on content rather than advertising. I hope it kick starts a new business model for publishing. But as someone who likes to see an individual succeed I’m more interested in seeing how Marco’s experiment with his career pans out.