A Condition Of Magazines

January 20th, 2010 | knock john

The POD-magazine service MagCloud does an interesting sidestep around the "we have broken your business, now we want your machines" situation that the internet and clever people like Really Interesting Group present to newspaper printers (who are also, of course, a distribution solution — Newspaper Club newspapers get slung in the back of a van on a pallet right from the printers’ back gates). MagCloud is a Hewlett Packard initiative, and the position they take is "we will make the machines that make you do business with us directly." The print-on-demand machines, from slinging ink to punching binding, are all HP’s. The base cost they apply is twenty American cents per page, which makes a 20pp magazine four bucks before you add your own mark-up, that being your profit margin. They’ll sell the magazine for you, and mail out the copies to your customers. It is essentially a costless endeavour to produce and distribute a magazine, given that you have a computer and an internet connection in the first place.

It occurs to me that it also creates an interesting condition.

"Does it deserve to be a magazine?"

Given that you’ve got a computer and an internet connection in the first place, there are easier and faster ways to, as THE DAY TODAY used to say, Speak Your Brains. There was a time when it was easier to slap paste-up on a photocopier and bang out a print object than it was to sling the equivalent volume of material on the net, but that time, like THE DAY TODAY, is long gone.

Print’s not dead, and print’s not going away, but, in the magazine space, a print object is becoming a rare instantiation of a cultural operation.

And if I’m asking (say) five American dollars for a twenty-page magazine, I’m in the position of asking myself if this really needs to be in print. Is this a thing that people will want to pass around? Will it be more present and compelling than the same/similar content being passed around as a link? Is it going to survive longer than a week before going in the bin? Does it need the things that paper does in order to resonate?

COILHOUSE is an instance of a magazine that really took wings as a print object. The blog is great, but the magazine is such a fucking fantastic object that it completely transcends and occults the web organ. But something like COILHOUSE also creates something of a hurdle: if this is a new magazine that deserves to be a print object, does Magazine X also clear that bar?

Since MagCloud opened, I have from time to time toyed with the idea of publishing through it. A non-profit magazine featuring short essays and art pieces by a selection of my strange and future-facing friends, for instance, or a long piece by me constituting a wonder-cabinet tour on some subject or other. But I find, on sustained consideration, that I can’t meet the condition.

Which in itself is interesting, perhaps. It may explain why I haven’t seen the take-up of MagCloud services that I’ve expected. (I have their new-releases RSS in my feedreader, and buy a bunch every month or two.) It’s not necessarily that the web does magazines better: just the appearance of transience.


9 Responses to “A Condition Of Magazines”

  1. I like the possibilities of magcolud. It was suggested to me recently to (through them, of course) put together a volume of my old comic book-centric column, the Lottery Party. Which is tempting but at the end of the day…
    even my ego has to concede that the damn thing will not sell outside of a meager circle of creepy exes.

  2. I put out a “magazine” on MagCloud and instantly regretted it. I’m a writer only, and have little to no gift for producing any visuals. The sad fact is that MagCloud is just too damned expensive on a page rate (20 pages? that’s a pamphlet, not a magazine) unless you are really putting together an actual MAGAZINE with amazing layout and design to go with mere words and pictures. The stuff I’ve seen on MagCloud that interests me is essentially visual or layout art experimentation – people trying to do stellar work and completely toss standard practice. And I, for one, would need a team to work with if I was going to do MagCloud again.

  3. Slightly off-topic / at a tangent…
    With NewsCorp and Apple trying to monetise everything on the one side, and ‘piracy’ on the other, maybe this is an indication of a third way, one that may be good for everybody?

  4. It’s an interesting observation and fair comment.

    Coilhouse and its ilk will survive because they are such pieces of art unto themselves – the interesting point will be what demographic will continue to want a printed magazine, the market will certainly shrink and fragment again into more specialised niche brands to such an extent that it will be impossible to identify a market.

    Freak Angels is a good example of how print will survive. Content is free online and I’ve enjoyed it very much, so much so I’ve felt the need to buy a hardcopy for myself and friends.

    So rather – I think that publication buying has or will change and print houses like Magcloud will contribute – wouldn’t you pay $4 for a magazine written just for you? Where all your RSS feeds, tastes (not the Japanese Geishas one) and interests and hobbies are monitored/analysed and then any and every article that incorporates ‘you’ is printed off in a magazine which lands on your door once a week/month…depending how much subscription you’ve paid.

    Of course it goes without saying, you’d be charged for extra ‘bonus’ material exclusively available on-line or for a higher paignation magazine.

    Well, that’s where I think print is going.

  5. It’s an interesting point you’re making – basically, print in some quarters would have a similar status to vinyl in the music world.

    If only the same could be applied to all printed media……..

  6. I’ve stopped thinking of MagCloud in terms of magazines but in terms of “floppies”. Blurb Light, if you will.

    I’m working on a collection of my burlesque photography at the moment. Does it deserve to be a magazine? Not really. But I know that there’s a market out there for collections like this because I did a book through Blurb a couple years ago and was gobsmacked to see a $55 book become an impulse buy when I displayed it at shows.

    So this isn’t a magazine. It’s a program that I’ll do once or twice a year when I’m feeling it and if it builds from there, I’ll be pleasantly surprised and change the scheme as necessary.

  7. It isn’t helped along by it not posting outside of the UK and US.

    There are so many things I’d like to buy off of it, but can’t. I’m in Australia, they don’t find us worthy enough to ship to us. Which also effects my ability to make use of it to create and sell a product, which I’d dearly love to try out.

  8. I’m involved with the Espresso Book Machine here in the US (Blackwell’s has one over there), and I’m pushing the thinking of just printing ‘books’ into the realm of graphic novels and magazines.

    I had a woman contact who published a magazine on blio.com and ask about our services, but because of the minimum page restrictions (50pgs) and only black & white interiors, I couldn’t cater to her needs. But she could always make the photos B&W and bundle 2-3 mags together to make the page mimimums…

    I’m trying to track down webcomics creators to work with because, though B&W is the restriction, the quality is superb, and I want to offer these creators a cheap and easy solution for getting ‘quick and dirty’ copies to redistribute.

    Magcloud users just need to think a little more about how to maximize their service. Warren has a point about page size vs page cost, so that should mean that rather than say, a monthly, a quarterly could enhance a particular project’s appeal.

  9. […] his blog, Warren Ellis asked a specific question on the condition of magazines in a time when anyone with a computer can put one out:  “Does [your endeavor] deserve to be […]