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Pioneering Digital-Only Magazine "The Magazine" to Close By the End of the Year

TheMagYearTwoPrintCover_small[1]Once heralded as the future of news publishing, The Magazine is about to suffer the same fate as many startups: it will be shutting down in just over 2 months from today.

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.

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Robert October 8, 2014 um 5:07 pm

I’ve never heard of it. Perhaps that’s part of their problem.

Nate Hoffelder October 8, 2014 um 5:32 pm

That is certainly part of it, yes.

Timothy Wilhoit October 8, 2014 um 5:44 pm

Actually, the magazine looks interesting…I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t heard of it. Then I saw it was "Apple only." That would be the reason. I wouldn’t buy a magazine I could only read on my iPod Touch.

Nate Hoffelder October 8, 2014 um 6:19 pm

Oh, there’s no Android version? I thought they had released an app. Huh. Well, that’s one reason it died.

Timothy Wilhoit October 8, 2014 um 6:48 pm

I dug a little deeper and found that they did put out the magazine in ebook form as well as the Apple app. Still, hadn’t heard of their magazine before today.

Meryl Yourish October 8, 2014 um 5:47 pm

Clarkesworld is a digital-only SF magazine that is going strong and getting better every year. Neil can’t make it his fulltime job yet, but someday…

Jessica October 8, 2014 um 6:42 pm

I think the problem with The Magazine was that it competed with more accessible longform that not only more people were reading and sharing, but also free. TM is pretty well written, but it didn’t have the groundbreaking editorial that it needed to succeed. The only people who were enthusiastic about it were also in the Apple blogosphere, and of course the people who read it were tech nerds who owned Apple products.

Nate Hoffelder October 9, 2014 um 9:53 am

It is difficult to charge for what others give away for free, yes. The Financial Times pulled it off, but they have a dominant position in a niche. The Magazine just writes for techies, which is far more crowded by good content which is free to read.

Maybe they should have spent more time focusing on business models other than charging readers directly.

Doug October 8, 2014 um 11:09 pm

I subscribed from day one and cancelled after about two or three months. The articles may have been well written and edited; I read them all; but didn’t find one that I found interesting enough to save, pass on, or read again.

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