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Summary:

Typically, periodical contributors are paid either via per-item fee or through a salary, if at all. New iPad magazine Once thinks that a new format calls for a new compensation model; one that provides contributors with a more direct share of the revenue from their work.

once-feature

Getting quality content for a periodical generally means paying your contributors, and typically that’s handled as a flat-fee transaction, or the production of content is expected in exchange for a set salary. New iPad magazine Once, released Wednesday via the App Store, thinks that a new, digital format calls for a new, more appropriate compensation model.

That’s why the essayists and photographers who contribute the stories and pictures that make up each issue of Once get a share of the revenue generated by that issue. The first edition, for September 2011, is available free with every download of the app, but each subsequent issue will retail for $2.99 via in-app purchase. Once Apple gets its 30 percent cut of sales, the rest is distributed evenly between the publisher (50 percent) and photojournalists (50 percent to split) that help create each issue. Executive Editor of Once, John Knight, says this is possible specifically thanks to the iPad’s unique qualities as a publication platform. “Not only has Apple created a marketplace that is much more active and profitable than the online marketplace, expectations are different for the iPad,” Knight said. “The internet = free, but the app store doesn’t.” Especially when content is available only on the iPad, Knight argues that customers are more willing to pay for it, and numbers from analysts back him up.

Once definitely has content covered. The inaugural issue includes three features, each comprised of an essay that spans about three pages, and around 20 to 25 photographs about a specific subject. The essays do a great job of setting context for the gallery that follows each, and supplemental info from captions, audio clips and interactive graphics tie the whole thing together. The interface is clean, and does a good job of letting you get around the app without getting in the way of the stunning photos.

 

Once seems tailor-made for the iPad, but that’s by design; John Knight told me that the team behind the magazine recognized early on “that [their] strength is in [their] ability to generate content specifically for the iPad.” From concept to final product, the idea is always to create something that’s good-looking and engaging on the iPad. It’s a process that could give Once an edge over print-based periodical incumbents, many of which still design for paper first and port the end product to the iPad as an afterthought.

With a smartly designed product made just for the iPad, and an innovative compensation model, Once might have some advantages over the competition. But, as Knight himself is quick to acknowledge, both of those potential advantages also present unique challenges. Since it’s launching on the iPad without a print predecessor, Once doesn’t have a built-in reader base, Knight says, and will have an uphill battle building one from scratch. And since the model calls for revenue sharing, there has to be revenue to be shared in order to keep content rolling in.

Finding an audience might become easier as the iPad becomes more popular, and people turn to it first for periodicals and content, instead of print publications. As for revenue, the decreased overhead of being an iPad-specific publication should help stretch what money does come in farther, since each issue requires fewer hands on deck to bring it to fruition. Knight also plans to embrace Apple’s upcoming Newsstand feature in iOS 5, and says Once should begin offering multi-issue subscriptions later this year.

Once is definitely something of an experiment. Knight acknowledges that they’ll “see how [the revenue] model shakes down when [they] start offering paid issues,” but believes in the concept behind the app. What happens next may be up in the air, but Once has already managed innovative, well-designed visual storytelling, so it’s off to a good start.

  1. Interesting, but not the only iPad app magazine with this model. Sounds oddly like http://www.thecollegejournal.com, which we launched about a year ago. We also pay our contributors a share of the revenue from each issue.
    (Full disclosure: I am the publisher of The College Journal)

    1. Hi AP,
      I wasn’t aware of The College Journal until your comment. Rev. share has its benefits, though there are pitfalls too. Would love to learn how it has gone for you so far. Please reach out if you get the chance. (Full disclosure: I’m the founder of Once. @JacksonSolway on Twitter.)

  2. countdown to Apple taking a 90% cut. HTML 5 here we come!

  3. A wonderful first addition. Can’t wait to see more!!

  4. Interesting, but the revenue shares are well out of line. The creator is being shafted as usual.

    Once publishers actually recognise that their glossy publications have, in most cases, very little to offer once the artistic input is removed, they might consider offering a more realistic revenue share to content creators.

    Note to photographers, illustrators and writers: these people cannot publish without your content. Stop giving work away for a meaningless credit (that will not bring you more work, whatever they tell you) and request a realistic payment for your work!

  5. So in an example 10 contributors – that’s $0.90
    for Apple, $1.05 for the publisher and $0.10 per contributor, per copy sold. If they sell 1000, that’s only $100 per contributor. On the other hand, the person putting Once together gets $1,050. Not bad for a few hours of layout per month. The split needs to pay contributors much more if it wants to attract quality input.

  6. @Nick and @Stephen:
    You guys obviously care about this, so it’s great to get your feedback. Hopefully I can clear up some of your concerns, as I founded Once last year out of frustration with the freelance market in San Francisco. (You can reach me on Twitter @JacksonSolway.)

    The team behind the magazine hails almost exclusively from the content world, so the last thing we want to do is screw our contributors. Nick—I’ll be straight and agree with you about content: we’re nothing without it. On the other hand, running any magazine, iPad or otherwise, is no cakewalk, and we work hard to make everything we publish really sing.

    I won’t tell you guys that our team doesn’t want money…in fact—I want you want us to succeed. I’ll understand if you choose to reserve judgment (this is a comment thread, after all), but I hope our next few issues will help convince you of our good intentions. Earlier today the team was working on an amazing story, and only because a very prominent photographer decided to trust us. We risk relationships like these at our peril, and I intend to hone our model to compensate everyone involved in the fairest way possible. Doing so is only right, and you’re welcome to hold me to this.

    Thanks again for your comments, and keep an eye out for our next issue.

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