iPad photo magazine Once offers unique compensation model

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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.

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