Flipboard’s recent update lets users create custom “magazines” and share them. For a large swath of the publishing industry, this provides a glimpse of what (for them) could be a grim future.

photo: Ri han/Shutterstock

When Flipboard recently announced it was opening up its platform to enable users to create their own magazines, I was surprised by the low-key reaction by the publishing industry. It wasn’t a particularly busy news day but still there was a fairly neutral vibe throughout the coverage – as if it was of no particular consequence. Yet after I plowed through what little there was, visions of icebergs began forming in my brain. The publishing industry should have no doubts that big trouble is lurking directly in its path.

In case you missed it, here’s Flipboard’s explanation and demonstration of its new capabilities:

It’s not if, but when

Now don’t get me wrong, Flipboard is no Facebook. Its 50 million-ish user base isn’t particularly active  (though I estimate only around 4 million are active, based on ratios from previous public statements). Not yet, anyway. And thank God, or the media/publishing industry would likely have a significant crisis on its hands, as opposed to one that’s somewhat in the distance still.

The reality the publishing needs to understand, though, is that Flipboard has (smartly) maneuvered itself into a powerful position. With the flick of a switch, it could deal a serious blow not only to the traditional old media but also to a variety of digital platforms – Tumblr, Flickr, WordPress, among others – as it pivots from purely curation-based interaction to one that offers users full-blown creation abilities. Indeed, this is likely its only future, since without the agreement of the major content creators, Flipboard would be little more than a collection of Tweets and blog posts.

It’s about money

Currently the ad model Flipboard is using is fine, but it’s fair to say it’s not setting anyone’s world on fire. That could change in a heartbeat, though, if the magazines Regular Joes create take off and real readerships are built. Could the next powerhouse of media come from a bedroom in Delaware?

It’s safe to assume then that the company is actively exploring revenue paths behind closed doors right now: micropayments, revenue-share or even subscriptions. Imagine consumers subscribing to read other consumer-curated magazines, or locking down content only to be opened like mag apps are now, or as in-app purchases per gaming, or even geo-location apps (Grindr). At the end of the day, though, it’s crucial to note that Flipboard has what no other publisher does: love from Apple, and quite possibly the credit card numbers that go with that love.

It’s about attention

Bless anyone in the media for not believing that this move hasn’t just made their job far harder. A reminder: You’ve just received yet another huge set of competitors vying for the same eyeballs you covet. If history is anything to go by, most people already feel quite satisfied parsing news (á la Google News) so this shift should be sending chills of terror through professional curators like editors and writers. After all, going big is likely only a creative ad campaign away for Flipboard.

Another major feature that news reports of Flipboard’s update typically neglected to mention is the bookmarklet capability. The idea is that readers don’t even have to be on Flipboard to still add content, from anywhere on the web. Awesome for users, existentially terrifying (and awesome) for the media.

Content creation is coming

So what to do? True, full-featured content creation capabilities are doubtless coming to Flipboard. How aggressive Flipboard moves in that area will be interesting, as the company obviously has to be careful about biting the hand that feeds it. (In fact several publishers have already pulled back from the partnerships, choosing instead to focus on their own apps). The only way for publishers and the media to fight back then will be to remove articles from the system, or cut a deal. However, I have said it before and I’ll say it again: No paywall will ever be truly successful unless all the competition is paywalled, too.

Either way, we have a glimpse of a possible future and it’s both beautiful and terrifying. For those unconvinced of the power and implications of what I’m talking about, take a minute to check out the custom @themediaisdying magazine that I cobbled together in precisely 33 seconds and you’ll see what I mean. Now imagine what happens when tens of millions of people start doing the same.

Paul Armstrong is owner of Digital Orange Consulting; follow him at www.paularmstrong.net or on Twitter @TheMediaIsDying.

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Photo courtesy Ri han/Shutterstock.com.

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  1. Yah Flipboard isn’t going to threaten any old-media. They’re just an aggregrator, and we all know aggregrators don’t get the $50CPM that traditional media gets, and so they’re going to be stuck with $1CPM. Why would any advertisers pay to be on Flipboard when they get so much more brand value from the source site?

    Even with content creation capabilities, no one is going to be able to compete with professional media content creation. That’s like saying Facebook is a threat to traditional media. Not only do advertisers not want consumer content creation, but consumers don’t want it either.

    1. Paul Armstrong vFunct Monday, April 8, 2013

      I think this would be true if they weren’t working with “old media” already. One pivot and they easily become an issue and a player. All ecosystems are different – people are willing to pay if it’s easy and the value is there. CPM etc means squat if your model is subscription based…

      Brand-wise – who’d have thought that brands would be clambering over each other to do display on Perez Hilton and pals 7 years ago? It could easily happen for Flipboard editors – I can also easily see Flipboard picking people to pay that bring in numbers ala the YT superusers programme.

      Re content creation – I’d have to disagree and say “why not” – also with the FB point. FB is 100% a threat to traditional media. When I can update my status with news (and be trusted) that is being replaced. Agree verification etc is important but increasingly, verification by volume is being observed – that’s a huge issue for trad. media. Happy to look at research about consumers not interested in CC thought – everything I have read suggest most can’t tell the difference…

  2. Couldn’t agree more..

  3. But who has time to read individuals magazines unless they are somebody? Kinda like following a person with low followers on Twitter. It won’t work.

    1. That’s the point Droopey. Survival of the best etc. Just because someone has low followers doesn’t mean what they say isn’t the best/valid. I see a wave of super curators coming – think Maria Popova multiplied.

  4. Anyone of the fat cat millionaire content companies can afford to have a tech R&D-software department to create a Flipboard like app to showcase, sell their content, its been three years since the iPad was introduced where are the programs.

    1. Paul Armstrong DanoX Sunday, April 7, 2013

      It is amazing how they haven’t been bought already although I do worry that if they are something may be ruined. Let us not forget that the (IMHO) superior reading experience Flipboard provides to most other aggregators out there is in no small part due to Apple beyond the iPad… Evan Doll, former Senior iPhone Engineer at Apple is a major part of Flipboard.

    2. I agree Paul (that it’s amazing they haven’t yet been bought). In fact, I’m wondering if the end of Google Reader is timed with a potential aquisition by Google, maybe of Flipboard? I imagine Reader has a lot more users than Flipboard, if for no other reason than its relative age. But Flipboard also has a number of features that could ultimately be easier to acquire than was worth Google building internally.

      1. Google is a possibility but the Founders have publically said they aren’t interested / ready to sell. But then again… who ever is until the $$$ is on paper? If someone wanted to replicate they’ve had a lot of time to do so. Google kind of tried with Currents although I believe they are shutting it down in favour of pushing towards Google+…

  5. How do the content contributors benefit from this? All those photographers, writers and illustrators etc. trying to make a living from their craft. Will they get paid for the use of their work if you publish your own magazine through Flipboard? Surely there are copyright issues here. You can’t just publish a magazine (print or digital) and use other people work for free.

    1. Paul Armstrong Dave Monday, April 8, 2013

      100% there are copyright issues – it’ll be up to Flipboard and the companies to broker those deals (or back end user sites with ads etc) – if they aren’t brokered already… I foresee new market potential here. Imagine if someone actually rivalled Getty or Twitter enabled any image to be used as part of T&Cs.

  6. Hello Paul, thank you for your insight.

    From the magazines I have seen on Flipboard so far, most of this stuff is just extra noise in the web stream.

    I can build a 3D object in Photoshop in 27 seconds, but doesn’t mean I am creating something interesting and worth spending time looking at.

    So my big doubt is this: are we really sure that the ease and simplicity with which a magazine can be cobbled up in Flipboard are going to produce extra value?

    My answer is that it is not likely, unless, Flipboard supports and develops also a system that helps the real valuable magazines created by its readers emerge and be discovered.

    What do you think?

    1. I agree the potential for noise is large but then I look at things like Perez Hilton, Politico etc and see how they grew and become powerhouses. Carefully creation and curation. The same could be true here – with or without Flipboard’s help. Not everyone is a writer or a curator but with the right mix, gold can be produced. You say two very important things – 1) noise and 2) value. You hit the nail on the head with the word value. Where there is value – real or perceived – money (or opportunities to do something) usually follows eventually.

  7. Cool. What happens when a really large digital readership that has always lived online gets too big and starts to look for additional ways to attract new readers? Does the flipboard/digital mag then become a REAL DEAL hard copy magazine on our shelves? THAT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO.

    1. Paul Armstrong Tom Monday, April 8, 2013

      Agreed and one I would like to see become a reality. Especially with all the on-demand printing options out there. I would love to see newsstands with the 30 second printers that some novels now get printed on. Either way – make it cheap and find the right environment it could work…

  8. Interesting idea.

    If they go for ‘full-blown creation abilities’ it
    could well blow all the blogging sites out of business.

    Revenue share would be the best way for Flipboard to keep
    the media companies on board ..


    1. It’s not too far fetched to seeing Flipboard become a content hub/portal/thing that controls the flow of information – at least for a far few / possibly the right few… on the internet. At least – that’s the way I might do it…

  9. Ole P. Pedersen Monday, April 8, 2013

    It is very hard to see how someone could try to create subscriptions based on stuff written by someone else, published somewhere else under a copyright. Even on the Internet, copyright laws do actually exist, and if you want to publish something I have written, and make money from it, I want a very big share.

    However, if readers start putting together more relevant material than the media companies do, that alone is good reason to be fearful.

    1. Agree on all fronts – money/praise where it’s due. The way Flipboard works means if a user clicks through – the publications gets the love. My worry is when people are allowed to create – a similar rev share system needs to happen or – as I hope – a new model of micropayments actually takes off. It’s about creating value (getting info before others, more detail etc) for others. A reason to pay / come back if you will…

  10. As other viewers have commented, Flipbook will need to address Rights & Permissions issues like self-published authors and traditional publishers do.

    Many high-tech start-ups like Flipbook are ignoring the copyright issues of re-using and republishing copyrighted content.

    Niche companies like Digi-Rights which have automated permissions tools are hitting the sweet spot — as every re-use of content is a rights transaction.

    1. Flipoboard do a good job here – attribution and models to support Publishers exist and are doing ok – some have a different strategy as I mention in the piece but overall, Flipboard are pretty good at helping the publishers make money and keep control of their content as possible – more here : http://flipboard.com/publishers/ and http://flipboard.com/publishers/partners/

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