This week, I pinch-hit to write an issue of a favorite email newsletter, Hot Pod by Nick Quah. I discovered it a few months ago, and it is like ambrosia to those like me who want more insight into the broad podcast "industry," especially the parts I don't know in public radio. Nick just got a new job and was going to take this week off, so I offered to write an issue, which you can read here.Read More
Never let it be said that I do things by half measures: I've launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund producing the complete archives of The Magazine, the publication I edited and then purchased, in ebook form. It will be nearly 300 articles and over 500,000 words, and may be so large I split it into several files to avoid clogging ereaders and ebook software.
We had a remarkable range of articles and contributors, and this campaign will let me collect it all in one place, and then make it available forever through ebookstores and beyond. Thanks for considering being part of it!
In all the recent discussion about podcasting having arrived — with a lot of reliance on Edison Research's most recent in a multi-year series of interviews about radio and audio-program listening — nobody seems to have connected two numbers.
The Pew Research Internet Project's Social Networking Fact Sheet pegs regular Twitter use at 19% of online adult Americans. That's people 18 or older who use the Internet regularly, which Pew says elsewhere is about 87% of adults.
Edison Research's lengthy research deck notes that of its panel, which includes Americans aged 12 and older, so a larger pool, 15% had listened to one or more podcasts in the previous month when the survey was conducted. (Edison redefined how it counts this in 2013, which means the 9% figure in 2008 might be overstated by current terms, but helps show a slow, steady rise over the last six years.)
Edison helpfully notes that the 15% figure represents 39 million Americans. There are 309 million people in America as of the 2010 census, and the Census Bureau says 23.3% of them are not yet 18 years of age. Thus 76.7% of 309 million gets you 236 million; take 87% of that for online adult Americans, and it's 205 million; 19% who use Twitter regularly would thus mean…39 million.
A podcast and Twitter aren't comparable in nature. Someone might listen to one 30-minute episode of a radio show or their local church's sermon once a month, while they participate on Twitter every day; the opposite is also possible.
Yet given the attention paid to Twitter, it's reasonable to think that podcasting quietly arrived at a viable mass market when no one was looking. It took Serial for people outside of radio and podcasting to pay close attention.
Twitter's growth has slowed, especially for active users. Podcasting has by no means reached its top, and it's likely to be driven higher by a critical mass of adoption and shows like Serial. The number of podcast listeners could start to approach Edison's figures for online radio listeners: about 47% of the 12+ population in America, or about 124 million people.
For people who love listening to and making podcasts, 39 million is a very nice potential audience, but striving towards 124 million sounds even better.
My new motto for all new ventures is: If I don't have to build it, I won't. This is a marked change both in my life path and the advice I've given others. In the past, I felt that without building most elements of a digital project or a workflow from scratch, you couldn't reach something close enough to your aims to achieve those goals. Custom work, typically involving a lot of coding, was the only way.
I've gotten past that. The Magazine was a grand experiment in building it from scratch, and I credit Marco Arment tremendously for putting in the time and effort to make it happen. It was the only reasonable approach in 2012 to produce a born-digital and digital-only publication distributed to mobile devices. As I wrote at Six Colors, app ecosystems used to promise and deliver almost everything you needed for a publication; now, they promise more than they deliver, though there are still advantages.
The Magazine had these built-from-scratch properties:
- A custom app, which was perceived (incorrectly) as iPad only
- A built-from-scratch web site (turned into templates)
- A custom back-end for both iOS and web app interaction
- An in-house account management system to integrate iOS subscribers (by receipt) and Web access, as well as allow Web subscribers to use the iOS app
- A custom Apple Push Notification (APN) system
- Initially accepted payment solely via iTunes; then added custom ecommerce handling
- Did not offer integration in the app to allow subscribers to add themselves to a mailing list
This all made sense in 2012 because:
- There were no mature periodical platforms. Now there are several. (I picked TypeEngine for our 2.0 update this last summer.)
- WordPress was the only reasonable and mature offering for hosting a web site with the complexity of what we needed in 2012, but it still wouldn't have been the right choice then. Now there's Squarespace, among others, which are much more sophisticated, even without being able to run custom PHP or the like.
- Marco is a PHP and iOS programmer: he didn't have to hire in any expertise except in the user-interface design.
The trouble with custom everything, even if you are the person writing the code and are proficient (I can program perl and PHP but not Objective C), is that every single change you make or feature improvement you need is a slog. You're the only one who can do it. If you job out some parts of what you do for custom work, you have to manage those projects and get other people to conform to your needs, while they have other priorities they're juggling.
I have an increasingly well-formed idea for a new publication that I may launch in late winter. For this project, I swear to the heavens above, I'm going to stitch together everything I need from existing components, and only write the glue to bind them. Squarespace offers a lot of glue in its setup: linking in Stripe, Mailchimp, Disqus, and many other services by just popping in those other servcies' API keys.
- If there is an app component, it will be a publishing platform that I license or to which I subscribe, not an app I commission.
- Any content available through a platform will also be available in ebook format.
- Web hosting will be on Squarespace.
- I will not write a line of ecommerce code, but design the project around the capabilities of existing integration in Squarespace or another system that I can link to the web site.
- I will not build an account-management system.
- An email list (using Mailchimp) will be a fundamental part of communication.
- It will not be beholden to Apple or any monolithic company for funding, ongoing subscription revenue, or feature approval.
I will focus all of my efforts on editorial, marketing, and design. Am I being naive to think that what I need is available? Not really. I've tested every one of the elements I mention in the last bullet list in isolation. The trick is making sure I can create an integrated whole. I believe it's possible.
With our friends at Cotton Bureau, The Magazine is offering a limited-time-availability T-shirt to commemorate our 28-month run, which ends next month. The color is from Issue #1. The back shows our three-diamond "end of story" icon and our run date.
This shirt is an American Apparel Tri-Blend Tri-Black with long-lasting ink — I've got others from Cotton Bureau using this method, and they remain vibrant and stand up to many, many washings.
The crowdfunding campaign to produce a second anthology of work from The Magazine failed to fund: we reached about 60% of the target, but I believe getting people on board was trickier this time for a variety of reasons, including that we are about to halt regular issues of the publication.
However, we have a couple hundred copies remaining of our Year One hardcover anthology that were printed in April of this year. It's a great collection of about 25 stories across a huge range of topics. It's cloth-covered book with a dust jacket, and a full-color interior. We'd still like to create a second anthology, and selling down our inventory of the first-year collection would go a long way to letting us figure out that plan.
The cost is just $25 including shipping within the US, and it ships immediately (via Amazon fulfillment). That's the price offered in our first Kickstarter, and a discount off the cover price. (We're working out international shipping now.)
I'll write a full post-mortem about this campaign in the near future. More lessons learned, but not bad ones at all.
I was interviewed at a few places about my decision to cease publication of The Magazine after our December 2014 issues — read more about that here — and it was neat to get a chance to explain how wonderful the whole experience was of editing it for two years, and owning and producing it for a year and a half. I have no regrets, I learned a lot, and while exhausting, exhilarating — like parenting!
- My good buddy Jeff Carlson explained several things I'd forgotten to mention in my valedictory post, such as the fact that we are ad free. (I explained a year ago why ads didn't make sense for a publication of our scale.)
- Magazine founder and friend Marco Arment gave me a nice pat on the back, and agreed with me on the hard parts of running a periodical.
- Jack Dearlove mocked up a tombstone (sad but true) of our cover, and explains how Apple's disinterest in Newsstand coupled with other factors made my decision explicable.
The fine folks at three publications gave me a chance to explain myself:
- Scratch magazine, a great periodical for freelance and contract writers, led me expound at length on several subjects of interest to their readers. (They tweeted the best quote: "I hate being a publisher!" It's true. A publisher is a skill that requires key financial abilities, and is similar to being a movie producer or a nonprofit's executive director.)
- At Cult of Mac, I was queried about a number of Apple-specific issues.
- Seattle-oriented tech/finance publication GeekWire asked me about business issues.
The Kickstarter campaign for our book drawn from our second year of publication, October 2013–October 2014, is going strong, nearing 30% funded in the first few days.
My labor of love the last two years has been The Magazine, first as its hired hand and then, in May 2013, as its owner. The sad truth has been that, while profitable from week one, the publication has had a declining subscription base since February 2013. It started at such a high level that we could handle a decline for a long time, but despite every effort — including our first-year anthology crowdfunded a bit under a year ago — we couldn't replace departing subscribers with new ones fast enough. We're a general-interest magazine that appeals to people who like technology, and that makes it very hard to market. "Pivoting" to a different editorial focus would have lost subscribers even faster. (Ads wouldn't work; we simply don't churn out enough content for that model. I wrote this a year ago and it's still true.)
So we lasted as long as we could while turning a buck so that I could make an increasingly smaller portion of my living from it, while enjoying the heck out of working with so many great writers and publishing stories about so many people and things, historical and present, geeky and sweet, sad and hilarious. It's been great.
Our last subscription issue will be December 17, 2014, after which we will discontinue and refund subscription on a pro-rated basis and may produce some ebooks or special projects thereafter.
But in the meantime, we're going to go out with a bang by producing another beautiful offset hardcover book drawn from our second year in publication, which we're celebrating today. Funding this Year Two book means we can pay all the writers reprint fees and get their work and the stories of people they tell out to a bigger audience, too.
Help us make this book by backing it and get a gorgeous hardcover book. You can even pledge at a patron or angel level and get signed copies — I and all the contributors will sign those editions.
We're also giving away the digital editions of the Year One book to help raise awareness of this new project, and we're pledging — if funded — to give away the digital editions of this new collection as well!
(Addendum: My friend Jeff Carlson wrote some kind words and filled in a few blanks that I forget about sometimes even though I run this darned thing.)
I've just pushed out a new version of The Magazine app, switching to the platform developed by the folks at TypeEngine to publish the current and future issues. As part of the update, I've opened our archives for the next four weeks to anyone using the new app for free reading!
The app itself is free, and we fund the publication entirely through subscription fees. The new app version allows us to sell single issues, whether from our archives or new issues, which we hope appeals to more casual readers who don't want a recurring monthly subscription.
We have published about 200 articles since October 2012 on a huge range of interesting subjects: reintroducing wood bison back to Alaska, the background to serious cosplay from people who make elaborate and fantastic outfits, the last performance of Trek in the Park in Portland, a woman named Amelia Earhart who retraced her namesake's worldwide trip (successfully), DIY medical equipment, and, wow, a lot more.
The app works in iOS 7 and I hope you'll take a look and spread the word about our archives. (You can also subscribe and read on our Web site, which has a selection of free articles.) We'd love for people to read what we publish even if they never subscribe; we've tried to find stories worth telling.
For a decade (!!), I've been writing and revising a book on using Apple's Wi-Fi routers. Long ago it was Take Control of Your 802.11b AirPort Network, and the current, fifth edition has the moniker Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network. This latest update (a bit late and all my fault for that) brings the title up to date for 802.11ac, the newest and fastest flavor of Wi-Fi, as well as OS X Mavericks, iOS 7, and Windows 8.1.
The book's designed for any home or small-business user who finds that the basic information Apple provides isn't enough. While I fully agree configuration has never been better for Apple's AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, and Time Capsule base stations, if you want to configure network layouts or network details outside of quite standard arrangements, you might feel at sea. This book is designed to help.
I go through how to set up basic networks and more advanced ones, including creates pods of Ethernet-connected or Wi-Fi–linked base stations (and mixed groups), as well as walking through all the networking settings and how to use them for specific tasks. I fully explain the ins and outs of AirPort Utility both for OS X and the similar, but more limited iOS version. And I tell you how you can make the Eye of Sauron appear on your Mac.
For instance, you can choose a static, unchanging local address for any computer or device on your network through DHCP Reservations. It's several steps with a few choices, and I take you through that. The book also explains frequency channels and the various Wi-Fi/802.11 standards, and how to site your equipment ideally and troubleshoot it when it doesn't work.
For more details on the book—which is available in DRM-free PDF, EPUB, and MOBI that you can use anywhere without restriction—and a downloadable excerpt, visit the Take Control page. At $20, it could save you an amount of frustration you can't stick a price tag on.