I have a lot of respect for the publishing industry and the futurists who try to predict where it’s heading. Nobody in that business has it particularly easy. But with The Daily dying so soon after I launched The Magazine, many writers have gotten the wrong idea: that The Magazine was made to show the industry “how it’s done”, or to “save journalism”, or as part of a grand plan of mine that somehow involves both Instapaper and The Magazine. None are true.
The Magazine and Instapaper operate independently. There’s no master plan. I wanted Instapaper to exist, so I made it. Five years later, I wanted The Magazine to exist, so I made that.
I don’t know how to save journalism, but I’m also not qualified to. I’m not a journalist and I don’t know much about that industry.
I also have no interest in showing the periodical industry “how it’s done”. I set out to create this magazine, not make a template for other publishers to follow.
But it’s working (for this magazine, at least), so naturally, many publishers and platforms have already started similar-looking efforts. I get daily inquiries from people who want to license The Magazine’s platform to get a head start, a business that I don’t think I want to be in.
In fact, I really don’t want a bunch of other Newsstand magazines to launch that look just like The Magazine.
I want The Magazine to be the only publication that looks like The Magazine. People should recognize the style as uniquely The Magazine’s. Cloning it to death would only dilute what I’m trying to build.
More importantly, I want The Magazine to have a reputation for high quality, and not to have a reputation for “just” being a bunch of blog posts behind a paywall. It was made to have magazine-quality articles: that’s why I hired a great editor, why we’re paying print-competitive rates to attract print-quality writers, and why we’re starting to integrate illustrations and photos where they can be beneficial. We’re still finding our way in some areas, but we’re on a strong path.
The last thing I’d want is for a bunch of The Magazine lookalikes to flood the App Store with mediocre articles that haven’t passed through an editor and should just be (or already are) someone’s mediocre blog posts, just so they can easily charge for a subscription. There’s a time and a place for less-formal, less-polished blog writing — here and now, for instance. But there are plenty of reasons why The Magazine isn’t just Marco.org Magazine.
If the App Store gets spammed with hundreds of bad clones, The Magazine itself will lose credibility and potential subscribers as people make incorrect assumptions about its article quality.
That’s why The Magazine isn’t part of a bigger strategy: I don’t want everyone to rush into this model, making an app that looks and works just like mine. I don’t want to make “the WordPress of Newsstand”, because I don’t want it to be that easy to copy The Magazine.
A publication’s app should be designed and built with purpose and consideration. The Magazine works because I based decisions not on what everyone else was doing, but on what would be best for this magazine. Every publication has its own unique needs, audience, economics, and style, so their apps should reflect that.
In the past, publications had a harder time differentiating themselves. Magazines and newspapers all needed to be the same sizes and shapes, working the same ways with the same business models and the same limitations. Today, we can all tailor our publications to our needs much more closely.
“Tablet-native” publishing shouldn’t mean any particular multimedia features or structures. True tablet-native publishing should mean using the freedom of modern platforms to break out of the idea that publications need to follow a universal mold. They’re all just software now, and a unified platform would only limit the possibilities.
Simply cloning a few successful formulas would be a tragic waste of this potential.