Nomad Editions launched its first titles in January, promising a fresh design and business model for iPad magazines. So far the mobile-only weeklies have hooked about 35,000 subscribers (across four titles) during their free trial period, and plan to attract more after arriving on Apple's app shelves May 1.
It's too early to tell whether the publications will ever compete with a Time Inc. or Conde Nast — but that's not the goal, said CEO Mark Edmiston, former president of Newsweek, in a phone interview. The team of magazine industry veterans set out last year ago to reinvent print conventions for a better mobile reading experience.
The Nomad philosophy — a popular one lately — is that the tablet offers a better opportunity to consume content than the Web ever did. Roger Black, the designer behind Nomad Editions, told me last year that the format aims to take the best of the Web and the best of magazine formats to create a new venue for digital storytelling
. “We're now beginning to make websites that are about reading,” he said.
So far Edmiston said metrics are promising, with users spending an average of 17 minutes in the edition, varying by the different titles.
"Compare that to a website where you consider yourself lucky to get 5 minutes,” he said.
Joining Apple's subscription plan
“It would be great to have that kind of money,” he said. “The other side of it is if you have a lot of money and you have a lot of resources, you tend to use them."
Nomad is banking on subscriptions to pull in the bulk of the revenue — like the old days when print circulation made better money for print magazines, Edmiston said. He also plans to attract advertisers in the future, but right now “the advertising community is still adjusting to mobile." Edmiston said the company's Treesaver cross-platform technology
— which automatically adjusts the layout and navigation of a digital edition depending on the device — will be attractive to advertisers.
The forthcoming iPad and iPhone apps will have free samples of each publication and the option to subscribe. One original title — a surfing magazine called Wave Lines — was discontinued due to lack of audience interest but a new wine-focused publication will launch in May, followed by two more this summer.
Nomad is also teaming up with bigger publishers to launch titles and has a custom publishing
deal to launch a diabetes magazine this summer. They are already working with National Geographic to launch an edition and in talks with another big publisher.
A cooperative business model
Nomad might be banking on subscription revenue, but otherwise Edmiston's business model is far from traditional. “Business models based on exclusivity, well established brands and control of distribution (the essence of the old media business models) are useless in today’s digitized world,” he recently wrote in VentureBeat
Nomad's cooperative compensation model pays contributors based on a share of revenue. For every dollar Nomad makes, 35 cents goes to editorial. Editors receive 5 percent of the total revenue (in addition to $2,000 a month) and contributors get a 30 percent split dispersed among them (usually there are four or five for each issue). Photographers are also compensated based on a share, though they also pay a flat fee for some photographs. Nomad has a small editorial staff, amounting for about three people for each five editions and a photo department working on all of them.
Edmiston said Nomad has proven that contributors are willing to create quality content for a share of revenue. "The interesting thing we discovered is the world really has changed — there's so many underemployed individuals out there," he said.
The list of writers will soon include more media veterans, including former Bon Appetit Magazine Editor Barbara Fairchild; Kurt Loder, a former MTV correspondent; and Glenn Kelly, former editor of Premiere Magazine.
The cooperative model will only work if subscription revenue holds up, but it's also an obvious incentive for contributors to produce content that attracts loyal readers — not just page views.
“The more people like what you're doing, the more money you make,” Edmiston said.