An Interview with the Dudes Behind MagCloud
Is print-on-demand really the ‘future of magazine publishing’?
MagCloud, a print-on-demand service that one of its founders, Derek Powazek, is calling the nothing less than the “future of magazine publishing,” launched in beta recently. I e-mailed Powazek and Andrew Bolwell, the director of corporate ventures for HP Labs, the project’s developer, for a profile on MagCloud ("The Future of Magazine Publishing? It’s Here—Sort Of").
Here’s a lightly edited version of the exchange:
FOLIO:: Is this really the future of magazine publishing?
POWAZEK: If you look at the history of media and technology, gate-kept media almost always falls when an empowering technology comes along. As A.J. Leibling famously said, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." MagCloud wants to be the people’s printing press.
BOLWELL: Not sure if it’s the future, but it’s definitely a future of publishing, where online and print publishing coexist and complement. We believe that publishing is going through a fundamental socio and technologic shift—publishing is being democratized, print is becoming personal, users are demanding choice in what content they consume and how they consume it, and fulfillment is on demand. Digital printing is an enabler for this, and we see MagCloud as an example of a Web service that enables these new publishing models.
FOLIO:: It’s clear that this service could be a benefit for small, indie, niche and/or ‘zine publishers. How can a service like MagCloud be relevant to larger publishers?
POWAZEK: I can think of three ways, right off the top of my head. First, it solves the back-issue problem. With MagCloud, your issues never go out of print, because they’re made to order. Second, large publishers all have one thing in common: a ton of content. MagCloud could allow them to remix that content in new and exciting ways—or even enable their readers to do it themselves—and create a custom printed edition. Third, once you remove the barrier that expensive print runs creates, it lowers the threshold for success. Anyone, even a big-time publisher, could create riskier products and see if they find an audience, because creating the magazine itself is free.
And those are just my ideas. I’m quite sure that the best ideas will come out of the MagCloud community. People are already using it to make surprising, wonderful new magazines.
BOLWELL: Large publishers are as challenged as anyone to reach niche segments efficiently, and likewise have no way to do the kind of hyper-targeted publishing that digital print can provide. We hope MagCloud can help in these ways, not just to enable niche publishing to flourish, but to enable traditional publishers to experiment with and find these new opportunities.
FOLIO:: How many magazines are currently for sale on MagCloud?
BOLWELL: There’s about a dozen published at the moment, growing as some of the early private beta publishers get their mags up there.
FOLIO:: What’s the goal? Number of magazines sold? Number of subscriptions sold?
BOLWELL: Our focus at the moment is to seed a new market and ecosystem, so our most immediate goal is to create compelling value for our customers rather than to meet any specific volume targets.
FOLIO:: When will this come out of “beta”?
BOLWELL: MagCloud is in early beta stage and we plan to continue to add features as we learn more about what our users want. At this point we don’t know when we’ll be out of beta, but we hope to be out of beta before gmail
FOLIO:: Will the production prices increase then?
BOLWELL: No, that’s not our plan. We plan to continue to focus on making magazine publishing as easy and cost-effective as possible, for anyone with a desire to express themselves in print.
FOLIO:: What are the trim sizes available? Maximum? Minimum? Or is it one set size?
BOLWELL: Currently we support 8.25” x 10.75”. This constraint is key to developing critical mass, as it gives a common target for finishing, design, shipping, etc. However, as we move forward we are very open to expanding finishing options like trim size as we learn more about what our users want.
FOLIO:: What would be the ideal outcome for you for this project?
POWAZEK: I love the Web for the freedom it gives, and I love print for its longevity and beauty. For years, I’ve been looking for a fertile middle-ground between the two. I think MagCloud could be it. So my ideal outcome would be a new flowering of creative magazine culture, online and off, including new breakout hits that would never have happened without it.