In the summer of 2009, Mark Edmiston, a Newsweek president of the early ’80s and an AOL board member of the early ’90s, was at a party in New York chatting with a contributing editor from Vanity Fair. They talked about how the magazine, like many consumer titles impacted by the recession’s advertising slump, had shrunk over the past few years. Magazine budgets in general were getting smaller, they agreed, which meant it was becoming more difficult to make a living as a magazine writer.”There are a lot of [them] who don’t have a way of getting paid for what they do,” said Edmiston, recapping the exchange during an interview with Business Insider last week.
So Edmiston decided to create Nomad Editions, a subscription-based digital magazine venture that he expects will be profitable within two years, and which has the potential to provide generous salaries for freelance writers and editors.
“I was observing what was going on with mobile devices, and I realised I could read an entire book on my iPhone,” Edmiston said. “The more I thought about it, I really felt like there was something transformative going on here. And at the same time, there’s a huge pool of talented people who can create high quality content that people will pay for.”
As The New York Times first reported in August, Nomad Editions will publish niche weekly mini-magazines for mobile phones and tablet devices for a 12-month fee of $24 per edition (or the equivalent in three-month installments). Each editor will get 5% of the subscription revenue generated by each issue, and the writers will split a collective 30% of the subscription revenue per issue. In other words, the more subscribers they can attract, the more money they will make. So far, as we reported a few weeks ago, about two dozen journalists, many of them print media veterans, have signed on.
The first four editions — Real Eats (food), Wide Screen (film), Wave Lines (surfing) and U + Me (viral video) — are scheduled to launch on Nov. 12, Edmiston told us. An additional four, one each focusing on dogs, healthy living, wine and personal finance, will launch at the end of January. And there are currently nine more in development, with potential topics ranging from jazz to diabetes. One “major publisher of a well known brand” has expressed interest in creating an editorial supplement via Nomad Editions, Edmiston said.
At 67, Edmiston, who started running Newsweek the same year Ronald Reagan was elected president, is perhaps an unlikely candidate to help usher magazines into the mobile era. But age, he said, is on his side.
“I’m either too old to be doing this, or old enough to see the opportunity in distinguishing between secular and cyclical changes,” he said. “I like to think the latter.”
We spoke with Edmiston to get more details about how Nomad Editions will work. Here’s what he had to say about….
Investors, revenue and the path to profitability: Nomad Editions has raised nearly $850,000 to date, according to Edmiston, and needs to raise another $2.4 million to “get us through the next year.” Investors include Jack Kliger, the former CEO of Hachette Filipacchi Media; former Reader’s Digest president Eric Schrier; and Philip Guarascio, who used to head up marketing for GM. The first 30 days will be free for everyone; after that, 85% of the yearly revenue will be generated through subscriptions and 15% through ads, though Nomad Editions “won’t be actively seeking advertising until next spring.” Edmiston said he expects to break even by the end of 2011 and become profitable in 2012.
The staff and content: “The enthusiasm level from editors largely determined the debut topics,” said Edmiston. “It’s critical for us to have passionate editors, so part of the selection process is finding someone who really likes that subject and has the skills to put together a publication.” Jonathan Cohen, the editor of Nomad’s surfing publication, for instance, had “a really good pitch” that he estimates will win over 10% of the 2 million surfers in the U.S., Edmiston said. If Wave Lines were to bring in 50,000 readers on average, that would translate into about $1.2 million in yearly subscription revenue and a roughly $60,000 salary for Cohen. On the other hand, if only 500 surfers on average ended up subscribing, well, you get the picture.
Meanwhile, a core full-time editorial staff of four, including editor-in-chief John Benditt, formerly of Scientific American, will work out of Nomad Editions’ Manhattan office on 28th Street and Fifth Avenue. As for the material, it will all be original and/or reported — a combination of two 1,200-1,500-word pieces and several smaller items that amount to roughly 5,000-word weekly editions meant to be read in half an hour. “In the old days of Newsweek, the average reader would read the magazine for 44 minutes,” Edmiston said. “We’re not going to be doing any New Yorker kind of long form.”
Whether it’s risky to sink all this money into publications designed exclusively for mobile phones and tablets, considering the media industry is still trying to figure out how to make digital publishing successful: “I put my own money into it, so I believe it’s going to be successful,” Edmiston said. “We’re targeting very narrow, specific interests — intensely interested people in relatively small markets. I think we’ve passed the tipping point on those kind of dedicated readers of mobile and tablet devices. Look at books being read on the kindle. I’ve read probably a dozen books on my iPhone. This is where people will get most of their media, and I think people will get used to paying for that.”
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