Part of the reason The Daily couldn’t support its 120-person staff is because it couldn’t get enough people to read its content. Trapped in the iPad with only limited sharing functionality, The Daily’s journalism was doomed to exist only for the 100,000 or so people who were paying the $1 a week to subscribe and checked the app every day.
By a similar token, the magazines on offer in the Next Issue app, which offers a range of titles for an all-you-can-eat monthly subscription, are still struggling to pull themselves into the world of social sharing that would otherwise see their content spread far and wide across the Web.
In contrast to the old media mindset of porting the print experience into an iPad format via glorified PDFs, online-native publications such as BuzzFeed and The Verge are making their stories as shareable as possible by keeping them firmly rooted in the Web and out of native apps, where it’s harder to bust stories out of the surrounding walls. The basic economics: Tweets equal traffic.
There is at least one startup on the side of the old-media crew, however. New York-based Maz, which last month closed a $1 million seed round, is making the act of “clipping” from iPad magazines easy and fun, tapping into a curation zeitgeist led by the likes of Pinterest and Tumblr. (See a video of how it works here.)
Maz lets readers of iPad magazines that use its publishing platform “clip” portions of a page – a picture, say, or a piece of text – that they can send instantly to their various social networks. Publishers on Maz’s platform include Inc, and a bunch of international titles, from an Iranian architecture digest to a British magazine that is purely about booze. Until today, the clipping functionality was available only for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and email. Now, however, Maz has added Tumblr into the mix too.
Maz’s solution is the iPad-era equivalent of cutting images out of your print magazines for scrapbooks. One thing working in its favor is that many people are already habituated to the practice thanks to curation Web apps such as Pinterest, Instapaper, and Evernote. Actually, Evernote already has a clippings function built into its Chrome extension, but it is so far limited to the browser-mediated Web and only lets users post to Twitter or Facebook.
Another interesting counterpoint is provided by Zeen, the self-publishing magazine startup started by YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steven Chen. While Zeen is focused on consumers and Maz serves publishers, a comparison of the two shows how differently people are thinking about the future of publishing.
Zeen, for instance, asks users to come to its site and add rich media to its templates in order to build a magazine. Maz, on the other hand, favors a more distributed approach, recognizing that many people are happy to express their “voice” merely by sharing pieces of content to their various social networks. It is unclear just how strong a demand there will be for the average consumer to be able to create her own magazine. It may be that in many cases, the desire to be heard is satisfied with a simple Tweet or Pinboard.
If that’s the case, then Maz is on the right track. Generally speaking, the easier it is for a reader to share their content, the happier publishers should be. But maybe they should give up on the idea of glorified PDFs in the first place. A new movement towards Craig Mod’s idea of “subcompact publishing” is afoot. Instead of producing rich media-heavy apps, new iPad-friendly publications such as The Awl’s Weekend Companion, Matter, and The Magazine are producing content that focuses on storytelling through lightweight formats that are cheap to produce, easy to read, and take almost no time to download. And none of them require a solution as fancy as Maz’s for readers to share their content.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]