Many are trying to crack the value proposition for today's generation of savvy consumers iPhones and e-readers in hand, adept at googling and navigating the ocean of news at their disposal. In this regard a significant new venture has found its way to market.
Nomad Editions , headed up by founder Mark Edmiston, is delivering a bevy of e-magazines. Bringing storytelling into the 21st century, they are experimenting with a new business model in which they share profits with editors and writers. Already they have three offerings: Real Eats (food), Wave Lines (surfing), and Wide Screen (movies). Just around the corner in early January will be U+Me (social networking) and more after that.
So far, so good. With almost no advertising they have accrued about 2,000 subscribers who are willing to pay the reasonable price of $6 for 12 issues every 3 months.
Edmiston has a background in magazine publishing, electronic media, and investment banking. He joined Newsweek in 1973 and in 1981 became the president and CEO. He led the internal initiative to apply personal computing, took the magazine into its first foreign language edition in Japan, streamlined corporate operations, and increased profits by 90% by 1985.
To help launch Nomad, Mark brought on board an experienced team including John Benditt, editor-in-chief (Scientific American and MIT's Technology Review), Sean Elder, executive editor (Parenting and Elle), Laurie Kratochvil, director of photography (LA Times, Rolling Stone, and O), Susan Murcko, deputy editor (Wired and Conde Nast Portfolio), and most recently Chris Leach, head of custom media (Inc.)
I caught up with Mark on December 22, when he spoke with me from Nomad's tiny HQ in Manhattan. Here are some excerpts from his comments:
It started about a year ago. We were talking to a colleague who had an idea of publishing a blog that people would pay for. Traditional media was in demise all around. Contributors were becoming underemployed or unemployed. My friend was going to create an Apple blog that people would pay $7 to access. We suggested that if that worked, it would be a way for one individual to make some money. But for a viable business strategy, why not have dozens of these or even hundreds of offerings?
At the end of last year and the beginning of this year we thought it through a little more and put together a business model. We raised about $600,000 in 30 days from people both inside and outside the industry. Then it was, "OK, we're in business. Let's go."
The big question was, would people work for a share of the revenue? That was part of our strategy. Resoundingly the answer has been yes. We have three issues that are currently being published and more to launch in January after the holidays. Others are coming. Every day it seems we have another proposal from somebody that we can seriously consider.
There is no doubt in my mind that people will pay for good quality material. People are buying books all over the place. I don't agree with the idea prevalent a few months ago that information must be free, people won't pay for it. I think it has more to do with the quality of the information and the quality of the experience. Most websites are not good quality user experiences.
People want stories and a good place to go. If you do a Google search, you get 95,000 different sites. Trying to follow the story on all these websites is very difficult. Ads jump in front of you and ruin the experience. There are links all over the place. You follow the links until you're tired or else you never stop, you never finish your experience. You go until you run out of steam.
We think - and it's a little bit of back to the future - the idea of how a magazine is organized is actually a pretty good way of conveying information and creating a user experience. Take that outline and enhance it with the kind of stuff that you can do on the web, providing video and other features. Combine this to create a storytelling experience with a real beginning, middle, and end. Have it organized and curated by someone who is effective at making good judgment calls about what to feature, what the main story is, and is adept at presenting the smaller related topics appropriately highlighted.
We look for an editor who has knowledge and experience with a particular subject. We ask them to propose what they think we should do. If we think it is essentially correct, we work with them to hone it a bit so it has a focus on what we think will work the best. Then we turn it over to them and give them 35% of the revenue off the top. So, there is an opportunity to control their own destiny. We do some quality control, but let them create what they think is best for their particular market. This is more of a cooperative kind of thing rather than a top-down operation. You can almost say we are a bottom-up business.
We're not stuck with super editors who are imposing their ideas on the people who are closest to the customers. We share with the editors exactly what we're seeing. We essentially have a series of websites that are linked together so we have a lot of information about how people are using the content, how many issues were opened, how many articles were opened, etc. We can feed this back to the editors so they can improve on a regular basis.
A key part of our marketing strategy is for the editors to do their social marketing to promote their issues and that seems to be working very well. For example, the editor of the movie issue tweets about 50 times a day and has a lot of followers so he can be very specific telling his followers what's new, what's cool, what's available.
We are very interested in going outside the United States, but that's not next. That's down the road.
If all this sounds interesting to you, sign up for the free trials of Nomad's current issues  today.
Seth Kahan (Seth@VisionaryLeadership.com ) is a Change Leadership specialist, helping leaders successfully adapt to the new world of business. He has worked closely with CEOs and executives in over 50 world-class organizations that include Shell, Prudential, Marriott, World Bank, Peace Corps, American Society of Association Executives, Project Management Institute, and NASA. Seth specializes in the evolution of print and the strategic development of association business models.
His Web site is VisionaryLeadership.com . His latest book, Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out, is a Washington Post bestseller named by American Express as one of the top 10 books of 2010. Download a free excerpt at GettingChangeRight.com . In addition to his posts on Fast Company (SethFast.com ), he regularly contributes to the Washington Post (SethPost.com ) and American Express (SethAmEx.com)  on how business leaders drive growth in our difficult economy.