The launch of Nomad Editions, a subscription-based mobile content publisher, is notable not just for the involvement of media investment banker and former Newsweek president Mark Edmiston and noted designer Roger Black, but also the business model it’s pursuing, which emphasizes subscriptions over advertising revenue, as well as a potentially significant revenue share with editors and writers.
Nomad debuts October 15 with four themed launch titles: Real Eats: Stories Behind Food; Wide Screen: Inside the Movies That Matter; Wave Lines: Your Brain on Surfing; and u+me: Voices Behind Videos. Each edition is a digital publication designed specifically for reading on a smartphone or tablet with a 20 to 30 minute reading experience.
Early editions will be geared toward the iPhone and iPad (future editions will be available for other devices as well). But with the platform based on Treesaver, a software suite developed by Black and former Microsoft engineer Filipe Fortes that leverages HTML5, the Nomad apps will be available for direct download or through Apple. "The tech allows us to sidestep Apple if we wish but its also lets Nomad participate in the app store," says Fortes. "We can have the best of both worlds. Being on the Web has all sorts of advantages like Google finding your page, people copying Twitter links and posting links on Facebook."
Business Model: Paid Content, Sponsorships
Prospective readers get a free trial for the first 30 days then subscriptions are sold in three-month blocks for $6, according to Nomad vice president of audience deveopment Jock Spivey. "Because we’re starting fresh from the ground up, we don’t have big overhead costs of people and infrastructures," he says. "Editorial costs are variable rather than fixed beyond a small core staff. With a modest level of subscriptions sold, we can have a viable business."
Advertisers can sponsor single editions with up to eight ads for about $25,000 per quarter. "We’re not trading in page views," says Spivey. "This will be more like the magazine world where marketers will be able to talk to subscribers. Much of the design difficulties with regular Web sites have to do with page views and ad placement. Articles get busted up into three or four pages because every time you read a new load, a new ad inventory is served up."
Still, "the heart and soul of this business is subscriptions," Spivey says. "We want to sell as many sponsorships as we can, but it’s not what the business is built on. Part of what we’re doing here is really old fashioned–the idea that readers should pay for what they’re consuming and the people creating what they’re consuming should be well compensated."
More than one-third of the revenue will be set aside for writers, illustrators, and designers, with 5 percent of total revenue of a Nomad edition going to the editor of that edition (in a New York Times article, Edmiston said Nomad writers could earn from $50,000 to $60,000 a year if they draw an average of 50,000 readers). "If we get any reasonable numbers, people will make a substantial living," says Spivey.