Glenn Fleishman, owner and publisher of The Magazine, announced the news today on its website and added more details on his blog. The last issue will be published on 17 December, after which all existing subscriptions will be cancelled and pro-rated refunds offered either through Apple or directly to readers.
Launched in late 2012 by Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper, The Magazine was the poster child for subcompact publishing, a new type of minimalist digital publication that focused on a handful of great stories published at regular intervals. The Magazine was not the first to try this idea, but it was the most visible example and it inspired great hope in news organizations that there was a way to go forward.
Sadly, while there was a lot of hope, there wasn’t all that much money. Fleishman reveals that The Magazine had seen declining subscription rates since the first buzz wore off:
My labor of love the last two years has been The Magazine, first as its hired hand and then, in May 2013, as its owner. The sad truth has been that, while profitable from week one, the publication has had a declining subscription base since February 2013. It started at such a high level that we could handle a decline for a long time, but despite every effort — including our first-year anthology crowdfunded a bit under a year ago — we couldn’t replace departing subscribers with new ones fast enough. We’re a general-interest magazine that appeals to people who like technology, and that makes it very hard to market. “Pivoting” to a different editorial focus would have lost subscribers even faster.
The Magazine will be survived by an industry which it inspired, including the subcompact publishing platform TypeEngine, where the publication had been based for the past couple months.
While I won’t speculate why it failed, I will add that I thought The Magazine represented a transition stage in what could have been the rebirth of the news industry. I thought that subcompact publishing applied the idea of startup to publishing, and would inevitably lead to some publications growing out of that stage and becoming full-fledged media organizations.
Many blogs went through a similar growth cycle, but unfortunately The Magazine has come up against the reality of startups: many fail, and only a few succeed.