On 'The Magazine'

There’s several things to think about with the launch of the iOS-only The Magazine from Marco Arment.


So far, so good. The articles are of high-quality, enjoyable and the right level of thoughtful. Also not too many, the ‘few articles a month’ schedule seems manageable both for him to produce and as a consumer to read.

Of the first issue articles I most enjoyed Alex Payne’s very personal reflection on the recent travails of his life. I also kinda want to buy the guy a beer.

Given that Marco is plugged into the 5by5 podcast network and features in the higher echelons of ‘nerds who are known’ and has produced a tool that is loved by many geeks: he has access to many great writers. He is also well known enough to be trusted by contributors even if there is no personal relationship.

When he says “I’m in a strong position to try this” in his announcement post he’s not wrong.

iOS-only… Really?

Marco’s choice of tools is related to two things. His particular skill set and his preferred choice of business model: as much as one man can do, while being directly paid by customers.

The iOS + backend PHP website is square in the middle of his technological wheelhouse.

However payment is the big thing. There’s an abundance of ways for small publishing to fund itself in opposition to the monolithic physical-origin publishing world.

Daring Fireball (and indeed Marco’s own site) have RSS sponsorships. Many blogs have Deck or Fusion ads. There is even voluntary subscriptions for sites like The Loop or Shawn Blanc or podcasts like The Bugle. There is also the Kickstarter model, but this seems to work better for physical magazines and books, and it takes time.

All perfectly good ways to get paid.

But for a brand new publication the only way to get paid before spending months building a readership, and effectively working for free, is to charge up front. Realistically given Marco’s experience in creating reading experiences on iOS and the fact that people are used to paying for content on those devices, it makes total sense.

Sure Android would be nice, as would web, but there’s enough of Marco’s audience with iOS to get this thing up and running and he’s deliberately keeping this a one man band.

In effect the promotional benefits of a well-read blog and podcast plus a successful product and a large following on Twitter have made Marco’s audience large enough to have a (relatively) quick swing at this.

The immediate payment also lets his experiment be expedient. Ship an app that may have only taken a short time given his skill set and see if his hypothesis is correct: will his existing audience be interested enough to get this venture profitable almost straightaway?

Very smart.

It’s also a different business model than Instapaper. Although he’s offering a subscription option for that app, the majority of his income still comes from one-off application sales. The model for ‘The Magazine’ is much more repeatable, diversifying into a purely subscription-based model for a complimentary (but new) product seems a good move. Instapaper (mostly) front loads its income, this will give a regular income every month.

Although he’s using the same iOS developer account he is running this through a seperate entity than Instapaper LLC… Full City LLC I presume this is a seperate business to keep his different businesses sensibly seperate.

The app

The app itself is delightful. And simple. Showcasing Arment’s ability to implement a slick looking and most importantly feeling app.

I concur with Gruber’s review of the new Kindle, highlighting Amazon’s need to create the best reading experience, rather than merely the best eBook reader. If you then contrast the care and craft Marco has applied to the reading experience in The Magazine. You have an experience that outstrips most applications built by the giant news corporations.

I’m not sure I’ve seen such attention to interface from someone with a self-admitted visual-design blindspot. But as a great man once said “Design is not what it looks like, design is how it works”.

The download speed is excellent, something nearly all other Newsstand publications should learn, yes Conde Naste with your multi-hundred-megabyte magazines I’m looking at you. Text is selectable.

There’s also backdoor for sending full articles to Instapaper, which is a nice complement to his existing app. Effectively giving his own ‘read later’ service exclusive content!

The typography is in general pretty nice, particularly on the body text on a Retina display. Although in landscape on iPad the line length is way too long to be read comfortably. I’m also not a fan of the way the subtitle looks.

My other ‘rough edge’ is the controls for text size. They are on the menu and there’s a strange ‘jump’ back to the article when you change the size up or down, but I guess you only set that once. It’s still pretty jarring though.

In short

I subscribed… lets see where this goes. I think it’ll be another nice little earner for Marco, we all get some excellent content and the writers will get paid too.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Marco were to offer a simple web-subscription using Paypal or Stripe down the line, but equally I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t.