While Marco Arment launched The Magazine in the fall of 2012, it’s taken until now for someone to publish a functional analysis of the publication’s unique business model. Jacob Goldstein, writing for National Public Radio’s “Planet Money,” reports The Magazine costs just a smidge over US$10,000 per bi-weekly issue to produce. Writers get US$800 per article, there’s no advertising, 25,000 subscribers pay US$1.99 per month, and the publication is already profitable.
Goldstein notes that even with Apple’s 30 percent cut for distribution through the iTunes Store, Arment clears about US$35,000 in gross revenue per month. More than enough to pay for copy editors, illustrators, executive editor Glenn Fleishman, and a reasonable profit.
The key to Arment’s success is that he’s publishing “a magazine he wanted to read” combined what he sees as a “fluke” in Apple’s iTunes Store pricing model. “If you have an app, you can charge, realistically, about US$3 these days,” he tells Goldstein. But a magazine can repeatedly bill that same user a couple of bucks every single month.
Arment acknowledges that he didn’t know if The Magazine would fly. So, instead of going all-in, he “launched a minimum viable product: Just the iOS app with a barebones CMS [content management system] behind the scenes.” The function of the publication’s website would be solely to drive traffic to Apple’s iTunes Store for subscriptions. “I figured there was no reason to show full article text on the site—it could only lose money and dilute the value of subscribing,” writes Arment. “That was the biggest mistake I’ve made with The Magazine to date.”
Arment realized his mistake when one of the publication’s articles gained huge traction only after the author published the piece on his own website (The Magazine licenses only nonexclusive rights in perpetuity from authors, reverting ownership rights after 30 days, allowing them to republish anywhere after the initial 30 days). All of the article’s hard-won traction, influence, and information authority accrued to the author (as it should) but not the original publisher (at least some of which should). Worst of all, The Magazine wasn’t a part of the substantial discussion that revolved around the original work. It was, for all practical purposes, invisible.
Accordingly readers can now subscribe to The Magazine on the web as well as within the iOS app, and subscriptions are automatically synchronized between the two—one subscription gets a reader content on both the website and the iOS app. For first-generation iPad users, this is especially good news; The Magazine requires iOS 6.0 or later which is unsupported on the first generation iPad. Best of all, shared links now link to the full-text of articles; “they’re now free trials for a porous paywall,” as Arment puts it. Freeloaders can read one free article each month.
Getting paid for one’s work is a good thing. On the other hand, Dave Winer makes a compelling case for unfettered writing and publishing out in the open: I don’t want to waste time reading it if I can’t share it.