I'm the guest on the latest The Talk Show with John Gruber. We go deep on publishing and platforms and content and Newsstand and all sorts of stuff. But not Bitcoin. Not yet.
The Magazine: The Book is nearly at 50% of the goal we need to make it happen.
Kickstarter campaigns can follow a few arcs.
They can flatline, which is about 20% of them, last time I was able to get statistics. 20% of all projects approved by the company get no bids. Another 20% get less than one-fifth of the way to their goal amount. 16% of all projects fail between about 20% and 50% of the total amount they plan to raise.
But at the halfway mark, when you raised 50% of your total, the odds are pretty dramatic: 97% of Kickstarter projects that fund halfway proceed to fund fully by the end of the campaign.
We're about 48% of the way to our total, and I'm confident that, as we hit our last 12 days, we'll start to see some steam as people both see that it's coming to a close and it's not fully funded. It's an exciting thing, and daunting, and nail-biting. But we'll get there.
The campaign is to make a hardcover book of some of the wonderful stories that reporters and essayists wrote between October 2012 and October 2013 (and an ebook as well). The reward for pledging is the book! (And more.)
The campaign covers all the costs of paying for design, printing, shipping, and contributors, and will leave us with some print books left to sell and the ebook to offer online. It's a great way to run a project like this: to scale production with actual demand.
I'll admit that it's scary to sit here with about 33% of the time and 50% of the money left to go — but I also feel strongly about the stories in the book, the design that's being created for it, and the interest in making something cool and new that people will enjoy. Thanks for those of you who have backed the project already, and I hope those who haven't will consider jumping in to get a copy as soon as it's hot off the presses!
After some months of planning, I launched a Kickstarter campaign today to produce a hardcover, offset-printed book of essays and articles drawn from the first year of The Magazine's publication. Over two dozen essays about a huge range of topic — aging chickens, D&D, becoming a superhero, a 60-foot-tall lava lamp, and much more — are featured in the book.
I turned to crowdfunding because printing is expensive, and it made sense to build a project that could scale, but wouldn't start unless the necessary interest were expressed. As I post this, the project is nearly one-quarter of the way to its basic funding after about eight hours! It's quite exciting.
Join in on the fun, and get a great, beautifully designed book (and an ebook version, too). You can download a preview to see what it will look like and watch the video below, too.
I'm asked regularly (as recently as yesterday), why The Magazine isn't free to read and supported by advertising? We are, more or less, "freemium": you can read an article per issue at no cost, but if you want all five articles and other stuff (like downloadable or automatically emailed EPUB and MOBI files, and more to come), you pay $2 a month (10+ articles a month) or $20 per year (130+ articles a year).
The economics are straightforward, and worth explaining. The amount of money you can get from advertising on a general editorial site has been declining as the level at which advertisers find the value worthwhile hasn't found bottom. Some sites can command high CPM (cost per mille, or thousand, ad impressions) rates because their visitors intensively click and do stuff, like buy things, sign up for offers, view other ads, and so forth. But for most publications, even those in the formerly lucrative technology/gadget space, the value of an impression has shrunk.
This is why you see a focus on high-traffic blogs of sponsors, in which the objective is branding (plus some sales), and the association with the blog is a good part of the deal. Sites that have started up in the last couple of years often have a product focus: they refer you to Amazon or other sites to buy things. Look at one of my favorites, The Wirecutter, which has ads and product links both. One person buying a $100 item could mean $5 to $10 in commissions to the site in question. Other sites continue to focus on volume, and need a bazillion page views to generate a decent return.
Let's do the simple math in my case on a per subscriber basis. If I have one person paying $1.99 in a given month to get 10 new articles (and access archives, too), I will net either $1.39 (Apple takes 30%) or $1.63 (Stripe.com takes 30¢ plus 2.9% per transaction).
How could I achieve the same results from ads? The current average CPM is $2.66 according to a recent report, and let's assume optimistically that's the net amount after commissions and other fees to me. So that should be a simple bit of math: I need about 500 to 600 page views to equal that one subscriber across the whole site. Let's say I could get a $10 CPM, because we are so remarkably awesome: then it's only 140 to 160 page views to equal one subscriber.
But that's not the whole story. First, you need substantial traffic to sell traffic. If I have 100,000 page views on my subscription-only site that has limited free content (that's not the real count) it's unlikely I can attract any advertisers directly, and I'd need to go through a network, which reduces my net income. 100,000 page views, even at a $10 CPM is $1,000 a month. It might be months or a year before my tactic of "free" works and I ramp up to 100,000s or more than 1,000,000 page views a month, if that tactic works at all.
Because I have only about 150 articles on the site, and all as single pages, my inventory of pages is low enough that it would be hard to get substantial new traffic unless every article hit a home run. So let's say I split articles into multiple pages, irritating and discouraging readers, and have 600 to 1,000 pages that people might view. It's still small. And because I have in-depth, high-quality writing that takes quite a lot of time to produce, it would be expensive to keep the standards up and have more pages to offer. (This is in contrast to good news sites that produce on a deadline, and are writing about facts, rather than constructing narratives! There's nothing wrong with reporters producing news stories quickly.)
Second, even if I can manage to attract a lot of people, one never sells 100% of your advertising inventory (available slots), even if you're a great site. Some networks do, like The Deck, because they design an approach around super amounts of attention and scarcity. But it only works in very limited cases.
Third, I have to devote attention and worry to this. Attention, because I'll be spending hours or more every month talking with ad people and agencies if I want to get the highest possible CPM. Worry, because every month is a new adventure. I have no idea what my income will be. At the end of a quarter, when ad budgets are tight, it could shrink to nearly nothing. There's simply no way to know. Or a primary advertiser might go from spending $10,000 a month to nothing, ever again, for whatever reason (budget, anger, response rates, etc.).
I don't want to reveal specific subscriber numbers as a small business, but let's take the rough number of 25,000 that Marco put out to Planet Money several months ago as a basis. Let's even assume 100% of those subscribers are monthly and through the App Store, thus grossing about $35,000 before taxes.
To achieve that number consistently, The Magazine would have to sell ads at $2.66 CPM on 13 million page views a month, which means we would probably need 20 million page views to make those numbers.
Is our modest fortnightly periodical going to attract 20 million page views against 150 or so articles every month? Unlikely. Can we attract enough subscribers on an ongoing basis to bring in revenue that lets us pay writers well and sustain our operations? Yes.
It's an ongoing experiment rather than a business model for now, but I hope this clears up why free couldn't possibly work for us in the current model of advertising-supported content.
It’s rude to reduce people to a collection of body parts, but that’s precisely what some models want. Those who specialize in showing off hands, feet, legs, lips, and other elements are best known for being unrecognizable as the whole, as Chris Stokel-Walker examines in “Some of Their Parts.”
Medical professionals in hospitals have to keep a brave face around patients and even other staff. In “A Separate Peace,” Saul Hymes, a pediatrician, explains the secret places that help doctors, nurses, and others keep their wits about them when faced with endless days and grief.
Elisabeth Eaves said she had a great story about personal submarines in Malta. How could we say no to that? She brought back a report on the quirky idea of making tiny submarines for personal exploration, and she took her own dive down under in “His Life Aquatic.”
It’s an irrefutable truth that we are all aging. Rich Mogull has always been athletic. He can snap me in two, let me tell you. But as he’s aged, his body has rebelled, and in “Best Used By” he details the ailments and accommodations that have led him to his current level of satisfaction.
As part of the set of programs known as the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration was a way to get people earning money during the Great Depression. Celeste LeCompte finds that the WPA is still all around us, hidden. Read about how a group has set about documenting it in “Works in Progress.”
The landline seems atavistic in 2013. A conventional telephone line, called POTS (plain old telephone service) is low fidelity, inefficient, and expensive. Two wires, helically intertwined in a twisted pair, travel hundreds or thousands of feet to a neighborhood cross-connection point or, in older networks, a central office. We spend over $35 per month without voicemail and no long distance service as prices have jacked up because fewer people need a landline.
And why have a landline? Most people, even the working poor, have mobile phones, because of the flexibility they provide. Pay-as-you-go plans allow those with the least money to top up phones as needed; those with the funds often get unlimited voice/text plans, and carriers force smartphone users into those, too. With unlimited minutes, why would you ever want a phone line coming into your house? Lynn and I have an AT&T shared-mobile cell plan, which contained costs that used to be irritating for data. It should probably be priced 20% to 40% less based on the true cost and utility if we had any real competition in the market. But it's worthwhile enough.
If you have DSL, the hardwired service might make sense, but it's often overpriced even with a voice/data bundle. The cable companies have trumped there, as with broadband, offering the triple play of voice, video, and data for a price so low that some people (not us) go all in even if they don't want the voice or video. It's just too cheap as an add-on. Everything comes over one wire and the cable firms provision it out for dedicated voice and video, leaving data for the rest. (We have naked cable broadband: the television part is a wasteland and we didn't want to get tied to them for voice.)
Several months ago, we got rid
of our old home alarm box, which was hardwired into our landline to call in reports, and which has
technical specifications that really require POTS, not cable voice or
other services. The new one is IP-based over Ethernet. We're paying $30 per month
instead of $19 for monitoring now, but this includes a service that lets us use our iPhones to
receive alerts, check status, and enable or disable the system. It runs
over our cable modem's data connection. (Mobile IP is much more
This is all logical. So why are we about to cancel our telephone-company landline and replace it with another? Let me explain what we opted for.
We chose to get AT&T's quasi-landline service, Wireless Home Phone. It's a cellular gateway that has its own unique phone number, plugs into AC power, and accepts RJ-45 style cordless and wired home phones. It has a backup battery built-in, and needs to talk to a cellular tower to make calls. It's a cell phone in a box, and requires no Internet service. It's $20 per month for unlimited calls when added to our shared-mobile plan. The gateway box is free because we ordered it online, and there's just a $36 fee to activate. If we wanted to, we could have ported our existing phone line over, too.
Why not just kill the landline? It turns out, every time Lynn and I discussed the issue, we came back to a few points:
- Her parents aren't routine cell-phone users. When they babysit or are even here overnight, we want them to have a phone to use and at which we can call them.
- Babysitters sometimes have restricted calling plans, and we don't want them to burn minutes. We often text them, but we wanted an alternative for them, too. You'd also be surprised at how often a sitter arrives with a cell phone with a battery that's run through its charge.
- We want a backup to our phones. Yes, the AT&T solution also uses the cellular network, but it doesn't require a mobile phone. The wired telephone company has proven surprisingly poor in bad-weather conditions, partly because they have less money to spend on maintenance. Cellular carriers have every motivation to keep service working, because people can move among carriers based on service responses.
- We want to have a phone line the boys can use, under supervision, to make and receive calls that doesn't require either Lynn or I to dedicate our own phone number to that purpose.
- If we really need to give a number out for some purpose and we don't want a business to have our cell phone, we can give this one out.
If you do the math above, you'll see we pay $35 a month for our current service, but switching our alarm added $11 per month and the AT&T service is $20 per month. That seems like a very slight savings, no? Is $48 a year worth it? It's better than it looks.
First, we have extra functionality with the alarm system through our phones, which is great and already useful. Second, the AT&T fake landline gives us unlimited long-distance calling, which we don't have on our current landline. We pay a buck or two a month for that, for a whopping $12 to $24 more in savings each year, but it also means we can use a "regular" cordless or wired phone for long calls instead of our iPhones. Finally, we're not convinced the local telco is going to be around forever, and we assume rates will keep climbing. This seems like the right time to make the switch.
You might also ask why we're not keeping our old phone number. It's been the number for this house since about 1991; my previous roommate, who also owned the house and sold it to me in 1996 when he moved, had the same number. We can get from 1 to 10 spam calls a day on the line: bank fraud, credit-card phishing, fake deals, weird surveys. We don't answer. But it's a disruption, and some of them leave messages. We're hoping moving to a "cell" line, where the carriers have generally managed to root out such spammers so far, will reduce the impact. We can only hope.
The interview I did at XOXO with the editors of Boing Boing is now available for your viewing pleasure! Tons of other videos from this year's event are also up now and the rest to come.
As the editor and publisher of The Magazine, I have a little problem with Apple's Newsstand, even though it has served me and the publication well. It's become in iOS 7 an easy way to lose track of what you're reading. In iOS 5 and 6, the Newsstand faux folder showed tiny previews of the latest covers; in iOS 7, even those are gone. People forget about us. I expanded with my thoughts at TidBITS on an essay that Marko Karppinen wrote. He runs a publishing platform, and now recommends to his clients that the Newsstand advantages, which include an updated app icon for each new issue, no longer outweigh the disadvantages.
But I figured out one workaround for readers last night, and Marko told me via (public) Twitter he has a few more ideas he's working on, all of which will fit inside of Apple's current guidelines.
It's been possible for several years to take a Web page in Safari and turn it into a link (or even a freestanding Web app) on your home screen. On any page, tap the Sharing button and then Add to Home Screen. This takes the current visible screen and makes it a tiny but ugly icon, and puts it in the next available slot on a home screen page (typically starting at the second page).
But Apple looks at the HEAD part of the Web page to see if there are META tags that reference app icons. If so, it pulls in the appropriate icon, and the home screen pseudo-app now looks pretty.
I realized that I could provide a way to link our Web site to the app via an icon through a simple Web page. I create a page that has the app icons referenced in the top, but also uses the ancient "refresh" option: a browser waits a specified number of seconds and then redirects to a specified URL. Apps can have a URL schema name in iOS; The Magazine 's is the-magazine.
Thus, I created a page that, when visited, automatically redirects the browser instantly to the-magazine:// — this opens the app if it's installed in iOS. That doesn't seem useful, though, right? The point is to get an app icon on the home screen! Ah, but it does work. It just takes an extra step for the user.
Tap the icon on the home screen, and it loads Safari, opens that page (probably cached), and in a few tenths of second launches the app. It's not perfect, but it's far better than the current alternative for readers who want an icon on their home screen.
Marko notes that it's possible to do this with a configuration file, too, in which the icon would directly link to the app's schema, and not require a Safari pass-through. I'll post more in the future.
The Magazine celebrates its first year of publication today. (Technically, it's been 364 days, since we come out on a day of the week, but who's counting?)
This Issue 27, and features some of our stalwart writers, like Cara Parks, Jason Snell, Joe Ray, and Lex Friedman, and two new ones: Philip Michaels and Ben Greenman
You can read more about the issue, our first year, and a new partnership with Boing Boing to bring some of our features to their readers, and experiment with how two different but similarly thinking independent publications can work more closely together. The New Disruptors will also become a member of the Boing Boing podcasts family, although retain its independence.
- Editor’s Note, by Glenn Fleishman
- Three Strikes, You Shout, by Philip Michaels
- My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Michigan, by Jason Snell
- Pilgrims’ Progress, by Cara Parks
- He Likes to Move It, by Lex Friedman
- Nature Adores a Vacuum, by Joe Ray
- The Dork Knights, by Ben Greenman