Lessons Learned from Launching a Newsstand Magazine
An idea from late last year turned into a year long side project that cumulated with a Newsstand app in the App Store, my first revenue payment from Apple, and those tell-all numbers that made it obvious a paid magazine wasn't the best next step for a blog with 10k pageviews most months. There's hopefully something others can learn from the numbers and effort and App Store gottchas I already wrote about, but what's really the takeaway from launching a paid magazine? I mentioned to a friend that it was a learning experience (as is all of life, of course), but then, what did I really learn from the magazine?
So here's a few takeaways from the magazine app project, stuff I've learned that maybe will be a help to you too:
1. Writing is hard.
That should be obvious to me, since I write for a living at AppStorm and elsewhere. And yet, writing Techinch Magazine seemed a much harder task than I would have ever imagined. I'll write over 10k words any given week, easily, but writing an extra 4k each 2 weeks for Techinch Magazine felt painfully difficult.
Here's really what made it harder: I wanted to do it good. People were paying me to read my writing — not just spending time on my site for free and perhaps clicking ads, but paying real cash money. And I had to make something they'd love. That felt far more daunting than pushing out a blog post.
And so, as I'm apt to do with daunting projects, I'd delay and procrastinate and wait until the last second. Instead of writing a half hour a day for the magazine as I should, I'd wait until the Friday it was supposed to be released and then plow through hours of writing and editing. It feels good to get it out after that, but man, there's got to be a better way.
If you're going to try something like this, just seriously keep writing every day. Really. I should have. Also, you've got to somehow keep yourself from worrying about what people are going to think. Worst case, they'll cancel their subscription. They won't kill you. And hey, they just might like what you wrote when you weren't caring so much about making it worth their money.
2. Doing more of the same thing is harder.
Of course, maybe my real problem was that I was already writing reviews and op-eds and tutorials for my day job, and there's simply a limit to how much one can write. That's very true, too. Perhaps one should pick hobbies in different areas than their day job — that sounds like a good idea. But then, writing about technology is what I love.
But then, web publishing has daily deadlines, and my magazine had a bi-weekly deadline. It was all too much the same — and too much raw content for one guy to put out. That's enough to burn you out from both your day job and your side project, and that's bad.
So I intend to keep writing, obviously — here, at Envato's sites, and otherwise. But I've also got a new project — yes, writing again, but in a different way — working on the marketing side of the new Let.ter app. And I'm planning to work on a book still. But what I don't think I can do is to do more of the exact same thing I do at my day job every single day. At the very least, for Techinch.com stuff, it's got to have a different tone or focus or something that differentiates it. I did that with Techinch Magazine, too, but the shear volume required made it feel too demanding.
3. Splitting your focus is bad
But then, I actually already had a split on what I wrote about at AppStorm and Techinch.com. I'd review apps in-depth and write more core tech articles there, but on Techinch.com I'd write simpler reviews and pointers about tiny tips I come across, and then wax poetic about the place tech fits into our life and similar lifestyle-focused pieces. That worked, and I figured that latter would be the best fit for Techinch Magazine.
And yet, now my focus was split. When I came across something new and interesting, or had a thought for an article, I'd wonder: do I write about it on Techinch.com, or save it for a Techinch Magazine article? I'd typically opt for the latter since I always needed new content for it, but then it'd go on my to-do list in OmniFocus and end up not sounding as interesting by the time I got around to writing it. The split focus made me fail both my blog and magazine.
4. Paywalls are awesome and terrible
Paywalls are the name of the game for newspapers and magazines and increasingly blogs these days. They make sense: you charge people to read your stuff, and suddenly you're not worrying about filling your ad slots and wishing your users would quit saving stuff to Instapaper or using Adblock. And they work good for some publications.
But they also restrict you. Online paywalls that are semi-porous work better (see the NY Times with their fairly generous paywall), as people can still easily share your articles and save them and such. If you're publishing in a paid app, though, your articles will be seen by the handful of people who pay to read your writing, and that's it. If you get enough subscribers to keep the lights on, great, but it's not going to raise your writing profile at all. That's very frustrating when you're accustomed to the instant feedback the internet provides.
5. Technology is amazing
It's incredible that you can launch a business from a laptop anywhere on earth these days and have people paying you money for your products without ever seeing each other or running a real store or anything. Sure, that's nothing new, but it's still amazing. With a handful of cheap apps — or, honestly, a ton of free tools that offer more than enough to get by — you can make something that'd rival the early digital offerings of any publication, and then sell it easily with the App Store and simple online stores like Gumroad. That's amazing, and we shouldn't lose the wonder of that. We take tech for granted so easily, but really, that's still magical.
6. People are more amazing
For all the complaints you'll hear from developers and publishers and more about fussy, entitled customers, there's dozens more out there who are genuinely awesome, who pay for your products and let you know they love it, and who spread the word for you just because. People are awesome.
There's always the vocal complainers, but something at AppStorm recently taught me an interesting lesson. We've noticed that comments tend to be the opposite of our articles. If we complain about an app (say, the new iWork for Mac apps), people who actually like the changes will comment and tell us how we're wrong. And if we happen to be the ones who like the app, and others hate it, you'll be sure to see the comments filled with people who thought we were crazy for our opinion. The iWork reviews on AppStorm were a great example of that, but so was another recent article: a news post about MailMate crowd-funding its 2nd version. The article got comments from people saying the app was overpriced and such, but then, thanks to IndieGoGo's statistics, I was able to see that AppStorm readers — apparently the amazing normal people who didn't comment — contributed hundreds of dollars to the same project.
Most people are really, really awesome — they're just quite about being awesome. Just ignore the loud haters, and you'll be fine.
So there, a few takeaways from what I've learned with the magazine. Now, to the next ventures — and more writing right here at Techinch.com, my original writing home on the internet :)
Thoughts? @reply me on Twitter.