A little over a week ago I published 'Subcompact Publishing'.
The essay is a consolidation of thoughts and prescriptions for tablet publishing. There is a manifesto bit, too. Which is something of an update to another manifesto I posted nearly three years ago: 'Books in the Age of the iPad'.
Responses to 'Subcompact Publishing' began appearing immediately.
First up was Ryan on 37Signals' Signal Vs. Noise blog with 'Tablets are waiting for their movable type':
Writers would love a way to push serialized content straight to tablets, and the experience would be a boon to readers. Tablets are the best way to read, and Newsstand is the equivalent of RSS for non-geeks. Hopefully apps like The Magazine inspire somebody to make this happen.
Elliot Jay Stocks quickly responded on Medium with the subcompact ethos as applied to music:
Craig is talking about magazines here, but actually I think this can be extended to all forms of digital publishing, and it sparked off a very specific thought in my mind: that the enjoyment of consuming digital media is increased when we only have a small amount to consume.
Then the prolific GigaOm writer, Matthew Ingram, up and slapped subcompact on everything in his 'Sub-compact Media' piece:
Why aren’t more traditional publishers experimenting with features or services that are similar to Arment’s magazine, or Tapestry’s mobile approach, or a stripped-down experience like that offered by TL;DR or Circa? It’s not because they can’t — obviously they could if they wanted to. But as Craig Mod suggests in his essay, with reference to disruptive economics guru Clay Christensen, they don’t do this for the same reason North American auto-makers didn’t compete with Honda: they simply didn’t see it as a competitor until it was almost too late, because they had defined their business in the wrong way.
A few days following that post I noticed a strange referrer in my logs: The Periodical Co. It appeared to be a newly minted, suspiciously subcompact service. Hamish Mckenzie did a little sleuthing and covered this mysterious company in a post on Pando Daily:
It took Shahruz Shaukat (21), David Mancherje (28), and Cyrus Ghahremani (25) just 26 hours during the Los Angeles event of the AngelHack Hackathon to build a working demo of The Periodical Co, a product the men are calling “Digital Magazines as a Service.”
To Shaukat, Mod’s argument made total sense. “When I read the Craig Mod article where he defines subcompact publishing, every line I was reading I was nodding my head,” he says. “I don’t think my opinions on it were fully formed until I read that article.” And so, they set to work on a publishing tool that, in their words, “would not offend readers with graphics or interactive elements that are just distractions.” It’s all about the reading, baby.
Which is — really — the whole point of posting these things: To inspire, clarify, and solidify ideas for other to take and run. I'm firmly of the belief that you can give away a lot and the peripheral benefits will fall into place. Seeing The Periodical Co., even in its nascent shell, made me smile something wide.
Jason Kottke — whose site I have been reading for nearly 13 years — responded with, 'Trend alert: small internet publications':
For the longest time, the web was all like "blog blog blog blog" and we were like "fave fave fave like like like" but a bunch of recent publications and publishing systems seem to be breaking out of that mode. Craig Mod calls it Subcompact Publishing. Not sure I like the name, but I dig his gist.
Bill Mickey over at Folio posted a 'Response to Subcompact Publishing', raising questions about the future landscape of tablet publishing:
I understand that with digital comes an expectation of disruption and re-invention. And not just an expectation, but actual disruption. But it's also a world where all sorts of business models live and play.
Om very kindly added 'Subcompact Publishing' to his list of '7 stories to read this weekend'. It was also picked up by The Association of Magazine Media in their piece, 'Disruption Through Simplicity in Digital Magazines'.
AND THEN: The Daily folded.
Murdoch's The Daily was — in nearly every respect — the polar opposite of a subcompact publishing tool, platform, or publisher. It didn't take long for others to notice that, either.
MG Siegler was first out the gate with, 'Why Magazine Apps Suck':
But the magazines and newspapers are stuck in the old way of doing things. They need to evolve … What if instead of pushing out all your content on a monthly basis, you released a weekly “mini” version with new content and live updates as needed? Instead of getting one giant dump of content one time a month (most of which people probably won’t have time and/or desire to read), you’d get four manageable deliveries a month.
John Pavlus at MIT's Technology Review posted 'How To Publish a Minimum Viable Magazine Online':
Shocking no one, News Corporation’s iPad-only publication “The Daily” kicked the bucket today. While future-of-journalism sites ponder the why’s and wherefores, technologists like Marco Arment and Craig Mod may have already identified a working alternative. Their connections to the journalism or publishing “industry” as we’ve understood it for the past century are tenuous at best–Arment is a programmer who built Tumblr and Instapaper, while Mod was a product designer at Flipboard. And that outsider status is precisely why they’re onto something.
Joshua Benton absolutely nails it in his The Daily post-mortem over at Nieman Labs — 'Some lessons from the demise of The Daily':
Here’s the thing: The Daily had over 100,000 paying subscribers. That ain’t nothing! With most subscribers paying $39.99 a year (others paid 99 cents a week), minus Apple’s cut, that’s around $3 million in annual revenue — and that’s before you add in advertising revenue. At various points, it was the highest-grossing app in the App Store in 13 different countries. In the United States, it’s been in the top 5 of news apps by gross since launch and, until this summer, consistently in the top 20 of all apps — even including Angry Birds and the rest.
In the end, The Daily chose the wrong slice from the tablet publishing distribution dichotomy. Right now (and certainly two years ago!) you get to choose one, and only one:
They went for the most ridiculous non-option: a huge publication with massive overhead, laser focused on a single platform.
An odd choice for a group that had the resources to pull off Large → Many. If The Daily had created a real open-web presence, and had considered — at the very least — an iPhone app, maybe things wouldn't have looked so bleak.
Regarding the other non-option — Small → Many — you could try to start a lean publication with small overhead distributed on every platform. Unfortunately the lack of cross platform tools means it's not trivially easy to do well (especially if you want subscriptions / payment options).
This right here: the difficulty in one-button, cross-tablet, cross-platform publishing, is a gaping hole in our digital publishing ecosystems, ready to be filled by a smart startup. The only real Small → Many option right now is the open web.
It also just so happened that The Awl launched their new Weekend Companion days before The Daily folded.
29th Street Publishing is the company that makes the software that powers The Awl. And low and behold — it's pretty darn subcompact. Nieman Labs covers them and The Awl in '29th Street Publishing wants to make selling magazines for iPads as easy as blogging':
“Very much like Movable Type and WordPress, we want to be a tool people can use to have their work go further and make deeper relationships with their readers,” he said. That approach is something Jacobs and one of his 29th Street cofounders, Natalie Podrazik, understand, since both came from Six Apart, the company responsible for blogging software like Movable Type and TypePad. (29th Street’s team also includes, among others, former NewYorker.com editor Blake Eskin and blogger-since-the-early-days Greg Knauss.)
Which is great, because this feels like the universe responding to Ryan over at SvN: ex-Movable Type folks making the next Movable Type for tablets.
Even the death of The Daily — though easy to label 'failure' — is anything, in my opinion, but a failure. What it's done is shown us you can't build a print island in the middle of our digital ocean. Yes: many of us knew that. But, still, to see an old-school structured publishing institution thrust upon this new space, have it willfully ignore many of the rules-of-engagement obvious to us, and then fail means we are, indeed, somewhere new. It's nice to be able to say that with reinforced confidence.
There's a lovely Jung-ian collective unconscious chaos-made-visible feeling when you map out thought streams like this. When I wrote Subcompact Publishing I had a hazy inkling that there was a growing interest in this kind of publishing tool, now it's much clearer.
Please let me know if I missed anything.
Here's a roundup (ordered, vaguely, in decreasing order by traffic) of subcompact related links: