Once Upon an iPad
What is ONCE MAGAZINE and what was your motivation for starting this? Once Magazine is a monthly visual storytelling app designed specifically to take full advantage of a new publishing platform, released at a time when publishing needs new ideas and new motivations. The introduction of the iPad, obviously, led us to rethink the way that photographs were published, distributed, and marketed.
To take a step back, we think that photography is integral in our understanding of the constantly unfolding history around us, and how it really was. But single images of the day don’t cut it. After some research into how viewers’ attention spans correspond to long edits of photos, and some personal preferences, we’ve settled on a new type of story, one that is first really enabled by interactive technology, but one that takes into account a proven editorial model: that is, single photographer stories of approximately twenty images. And most importantly, the iPad is a perfect picture frame.
What differentiates this from other magazines now on the iPad? There have been few efforts to design new magazines on the iPad. First we saw the Big Media take their print magazines, turn them into PDFs and put them onto the iPad. (Zinio, which does this exactly, has been among the most popular News apps for ipad for a longtime. Flipboard too.) But there seems to be little interest beyond this. Murdoch and News Corp. launched The Daily at the beginning of the year—not a magazine, but a newspaper—and stuck to tabloid reporting; it’s had much publicity from Apple, but no profits yet.
Other small and independent magazines have come along, but we do not see commitment to high-quality reporting. Wikipedia provides the text often. Other media are absent. Interactivity is limited.
If you look at the most popular iPad apps in the News category, they are all either aggregators or re-purposed from print giants. To answer your question most basically: from the atomic level, we are entirely different.
You have a revenue sharing model. In a field that has not found its revenue streams, how does this work? As a startup media company, we needed a business model to allow us access to the highest quality work available. You rightly point out that revenue models have yet to be proven. But this industry is so young, we needed to commit to something, roll with it, and actually publish something. At the beginning, we weren’t well-funded enough to pay day-rates as is more traditional. We don’t think that publishing is dying. We think that it’s a hugely fertile field. But before we started, we decided that all aspects of print needed serious rethinking. iPad publishing differentiates from print in an interesting way. Publishing is the obvious example in all Econ classes of a two-sided markets. Publishers discount their costs to readers by selling their readers’ interest to advertisers. We see iPad publishing as more complex. With revenue sharing, it becomes advantageous for photographers to use their own social media networks and online followings to publicize issues of Once in which their content appears. Also, Apple continually needs to show that their platform has rich and engaging content for all their new users. Once Magazine has been lucky enough to be easily discoverable in Newsstand. In fact, today it is featured in What’s Hot in Newsstand. That said, this is a market that has many parties’ interest. It’s going to take some time to shake out.
We cannot say that we know the future of publishing, but rev-share has enabled us to take a stab at something different.
Editorially, what is your goal? To do something that hasn’t been done. We’re trying to rethink what a digital story can be. The goal is to do it so well that we can continue to do it. If we’re doing the same thing in six months, you can forget it, we’ll be left behind. We’re here to push a form that we’re inventing. The big, bright iPad screen provides the perfect canvas for high-definition images, allows for video, integrates audio well. User experience is hot right now and we’re working on interactive timelines, maps, and infographics. It’s the gestalt thing we’re interested in.
Technologically, what are your plans? The complaint that we hear often is that books work well on tablets because you just swipe your way forward and backward, but each magazine publisher uses different combinations of taps, swipes, and multi-finger gestures to allow for not only linear stories in four directions, but also for more hub-and-spoke-type reader experience. The Epub3 spec is going to allow for publishers to release content across many platforms, and it is going to provide some standards. Readers won’t have to relearn how to interact with each of their magazines and books on the iPad.
Our tech plans must follow the evolution of hardware and software as updates are essential in this industry. We want to put our stories in front of as many eyeballs as we can. I don’t want to give away all the candy, but I can say that we’re working on tools for not only crowd-sourced stories, but also crowd-curated stories.