The end of The Magazine

Pioneering sub-compact magazine The Magazine is going away:

The Magazine will cease publishing its regular every-other-week issues with the December 17, 2014, edition. We don’t see this as a failure, but as the right time. The Magazine was frankly gloriously profitable in its first year as readers came onboard to try out the app and the format, but they then very slowly trickled away. This was abetted in part by Apple’s decision to hide Newsstand apps, a constant complaint by readers who simply forgot when we had new issues appear. We also have problems getting notifications to work reliably, which led to more people forgetting, and thus canceling subscriptions.

I suspect that there was a deeper problem: even as a long-term subscriber (I’ve been subscribed since issue 1), I would struggle to tell you exactly what The Magazine is about. When it launched, it was a technically revolutionary digital magazine, that was small and tight, and largely filled with well-known Apple and design pundits writing about other things. In the two years since, it’s retained the idea of being a magazine about other things for people interested in tech – but that’s a brutally hard sell. And retaining and recruiting readers is the hardest part of any magazine. As founder Marco Arment said:

Many non-ideal factors and decisions I made up front probably contributed to The Magazine not being sustainable forever. But the biggest challenge was simply that running a magazine today is a really tough business. I thought making a high-quality app was the hard part that was keeping iPad magazines from being more successful, but the app turned out to be the easiest and least important part of the business.

Rather ironically, most big publishers have their markets well sorted, but their technology is a disaster area. The Magazine is failing for the opposite reason – great tech, but an un-marketable concept. I’d really like to see more big publishers do some interesting things with TypeEngine (the platform behind latter issues of The Magazine, targeting niches within their existing audience with lightweight, cheap magazines.

Magazines have always worked best in clearly defined niches (with a few, large and notable exceptions). The internet has only made niches more important as time goes on.

The Magazine was filled with fantastic journalism, exceptional photography and great illustration – but without a compelling hook, that wasn’t enough.

Still, well worth checking out the next eight issues, and the vast archive, if you’re interested in good journalism and an interesting digital publishing concept, even if it’s approaching its end.