The ‘Long Tail’ Comes To Magazines

Apr 1st, 2009 | By | Category: Citizen Media, The New Media Update

Today’s New York Times profiles a new technology from Hewlett Packard, MagCloud, that enables indie publishers to print small batches of custom magazines.

Individuals and businesses create their custom magazines, and upload them to the MagCloud site in high-resolution PDF format. No money changes hands until MagCloud receives a customer order, and prints out copies at 20 cents/page (plus shipping). Publishers set their per-issue price, and pocket any revenue beyond that base price.

Previously, print runs would need to number in the thousands of copies to justify the significant cost of setting up the traditional offset press, making color separations, and so on. Those traditional magazine printing costs were prohibitive for many small-scale projects and publications that would, at best, have a very niche, very small circulation.

The HP Indigo presses that power this MagCloud initiative can produce any size print run for the same cost, whether one copy or a thousand, and yields full color images on 80lb paper with saddle-stitched covers that, the MagCloud site boasts, “look awesome.”

Traditional magazine (and newspaper) publishing is in the midst of a rough patch, with rising production costs and declining circulation and flagging advertising revenue. While the per-page production costs of custom MagCloud issues is more expensive than a traditional glossy, the economy of print-as-you-need, pay-as-you-go publishing makes sense for an increasingly specialized, niche print consumer.

Amazon’s Kindle e-reader opened up a similar avenue for self-publishing literary works and non-fiction for audiences outside the mainstream, ordering electronic copies to be “printed” on an as-needed basis, paying self-published authors as readers buy their content. This opportunity to publish a tangible, paper periodical with MagCloud opens up all kinds of possibilities among small niche audiences — the “long tail” that new media people like so much to talk about.

Kind of also makes me want to fire up Adobe Illustrator and make my own magazine, too.

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