Blog Post

Flipboard is a giant iceberg lurking in the path of the media

Stay on Top of Emerging Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

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 or on Twitter @TheMediaIsDying.

Have an idea for a post you’d like to contribute to GigaOm? Click here for our guidelines and contact info.

Photo courtesy Ri han/

34 Responses to “Flipboard is a giant iceberg lurking in the path of the media”

  1. What makes Flipboard so popular? It is a “curated” publication in which the rubbish has been sieved out. What has legacy media traditionally done? Published for niche markets in which editors ensure the rubbish has been sieved out. Flipboard essentially is the same thing, just a different medium. It is still all about content. Most people are consumers, not creators.

  2. I like Flipboard as an aggregate app for my smart phone , but for what I use offers a bit more flexibility. In addition to getting some news from major outlets, It allows me to aggregate news from various company blogs. Here is an example
    I am wondering if Flipboard can be used for aggregating conglomerate variious news/blogs and have the option to white label the site.

  3. “Flipboard has what no other publisher does: love from Apple, and quite possibly the credit card numbers that go with that love.”

    I question this. Apple does feature Flipboard updates but as you point out even all that love hasn’t netted them a world or evening industry changing user base.

    And credit card numbers? I see no evidence for Apple giving anyone credit card numbers. That is their ace in the hole; control the payments. The FT broke with Apple over this, went their own way because they couldn’t retain control over customer data.

    I’m not convinced by this article at all. Consumer curation? Flick a switch and the industry changes? Flipboard already works with the celebrities and major publishers and those are the ones most people still want to read. Flipboard has been running mainstream ads and again hasn’t hit the big time. They’re successful but not Facebook successful.

    There’s no simple switch to flick here. It’s a tough sell for most people.

    • Apologies Paul – I think you have taken what I have said a bit literally. Am not suggesting they will give Flipboard credit card numbers but rather access to them. History tells us they are unlikely not to want a cut but hey I can see it working for all concerned.
      Either that or they’ll get bought by Apple. Now that is a future I would like to see…

      We can disagree about the changes when/if the flick is switched – with everything new there is education required etc – look at Project Glass etc – with the right strategy you can get people jazzed about – in effect – becoming cyborgs etc.

  4. Have been using Flipboard and a number of other aggregators on and off and while they present content in new ways, it’s still mostly duplicated and regurgitated content that I have likely read elsewhere already. Very little of it is compelling, original and new.

  5. Paul Armstrong has it right. Flipboard has created an opportunity for average people to create a stunning magazine by adding value to the content they curate from places all over the Internet.

    I would love to see the opportunity to charge a subscription (ie. by using and do a rev-share with Flipboard. A similar model like has come up with. Make part of the magazine free to access and plug-in a paywall after x number of page views.

    When compared to (for example), Flipboard offers a better mobile experience. I think it’s key for Flipboard magazine creators to create a simple “publishing/curation environment” that consists out of the bookmarklet and a set of self-published RSS feeds that can be auto-updated to designated Flipboard magazines for easy and automated updates.

    Since the feeds are created/owned by the creator – any type of value can be added exactly like creators and curators do today on platforms such as Flipboard, indeed, would be the simple aggregator of said feeds but they do it in a way which is pretty much unique in any publishing environment.

    Beautiful, readable across any device (tablet + mobile) and creation/curation can happen on a desktop or mobile/tablet based environment. Companies like should take note – they can learn a lot from Flipboard.

    BTW – I wrote this little piece inside the Flipboard bookmarklet window. I hadn’t created a magazine beforehand but Flipboard made it a “two click” operation and even provided me with an auto-generated link I can share across my networks —

    Very impressed and congratulations are in place for Flipboard. Indeed, the ease with which we can create a magazine might be a bit too easy and maybe a lot of mindless pressing the “+” button inside Flipboard will not add a lot of value but that’s totally up to the magazine creator and is not different to all the spammy or straight up blogs are cluttering the web today.

    Flipboard as a creation tool? With some added creativity in how one approaches this, definitely yes.

  6. Ted Pugh

    Think about it: buying a Flipboard magazine evolving into the same experience as buying a single 99-cent song from iTunes and a creative talented soul can add more “songs” to produce a Flipboard album. Won’t the market set pricing parameters for worthwhile content?

    The site’s intuitive, elegant, and fun to use, so why not mash blogging right into it? The noise issue – schucking a lot of oysters before finding a pearl…..Flipboard creates an internet “American Idol” contest of magazine bloggers. They’ll find a way to identify the cream rising to the top, or will someone else?

    Time to get back to work.

    • Agree – there are some similar notes above too, Ted. I think if people are allowed to set their own prices, that’s one thing (and an interesting thing at that!) but history and my gut tells me that you are correct – the market sets the pace and price. My thoughts around this are that there are a lot of writers that could be making money directly from content not used in their jobs or just their passions. Value is/remains, after all, what someone is willing to pay for it.

  7. legaltruth

    I think the copyright issues are a valid concern here but also ones the can be addressed simply. The creator of the page could receive a portion of the revenues generated from the subscription for insistence based on an algorithm. The magazine owner could also have to obtain permission to have that external content within their own magazine from the originator of the content. Flipbook could also develop a method of changing the content simply to the point that their would not be viable copyright infringement claims, that of course wouldn’t stop people from bringing the case but it might make it more likely they would lose. There are various methods that could be used to deal simply with the copyright issue.

    The service could remain free and the magazine content could be used a method to gain reputation value like wikipedia and other open platforms. That way I believe it would still fall into the fair use realm, as longs as there is some type of citation method.

    As for this being a threat to the incumbent magazine/news media industry. It could be if the ads are priced right and if the opportunity to advertise within the magazine is advertised to those who want to advertise in such publication but find it to expensive. I would probably start with SME in the food and clothing retail spaces, then move up market. This is could be an innovative disruption if they get the pricing right (for the advertiser, consumer, or both.)

    • Interesting comments LT – I think the future is getting more people to be able to pay for it simply – imagine an account a bit like Starbucks Passbook where people topped it up etc. I can see that working – the issue isn’t people don’t want to – it’s that the tech to do it sucks. It’ll take time and effort but I think all agree it’d be worth it. Educate and then reinforce. Right now – no-one is doing either well at all.

  8. Bob Rens

    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.

  9. Ole P. Pedersen

    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.

    • 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. 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 ..


    • 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…

  11. 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.

    • 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…

  12. 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?

    • 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.

  13. 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.

    • 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.

  14. 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.

    • 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.

    • Scott Clark

      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.

      • 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+…

  15. droopey

    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.

    • 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.

  16. vFunct

    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.

    • 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…