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Six digital publishing startups to watch

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You know you can blog with Tumblr or WordPress, or self-publish a book on Kindle (s AMZN) or iBooks (s AAPL). But what’s next for the publisher who wants to sell a mobile-native magazine, or the blogger who’s sick of messing with plugins?

Here are six startups that offer new options to creators. Three of them — Periodical, 29th Street Publishing and Creatavist — let you create and sell mobile-friendly magazines, ebooks and newsletters; the other three —, Ghost and Glipho — aim to let you blog in a new way.

All of the companies featured here launched in the past few months (or, in Ghost’s case, will launch later this summer), so they’re still working out some quirks and rolling out new features. What they have in common, though, is that they’re all trying to make writing and publishing easier and better. Check them out and let us know what you think (and which startups we should add to our list).

Periodical: Create and sell digital magazines

What you can do with it: Periodical, which allows users to create and sell publications — magazines, newsletters and so on — for a variety of platforms including Apple’s Newsstand (s AAPL), embraces Craig Mod’s model of subcompact publishing: the idea that digital publishing should be simple and that the works created should be very easy to read on smartphones and tablets. Cofounder Sean Stevens told me that most users of the platform use The Magazine, originally created by Instapaper founder Marco Arment, as a model.


What we like: It’s easy and relatively inexpensive to sell content through your own branded app.

Background and funding: Periodical, which is six months old, is one of the startups in Los Angeles-based incubator Launchpad LA, through which it’s received $100,000 in seed funding. Cofounders David Mancherje, Shahruz Shaukat and Stevens previously worked together at comedy podcast network Earwolf.

Platforms supported: Users create their publication — which can include text, photos and videos — on Periodical’s site, set the price and then publish it on the web or as an iOS app; the platform also supports delivery to Kindle (s AMZN). Android (s GOOG) support is coming soon.

Number of users: N/A.

Cost: Free to create a web-only publication; $29/year for Kindle delivery; $99/year to create a custom-branded iOS app (the pricing will be the same for Android). In addition, Periodical takes a cut of a publication’s subscription revenue: 20 percent for subscriptions through the web, Kindle and Android, and 9 percent for subscriptions through Apple’s Newsstand (on top of the 30 percent fee that Apple charges).

Availability: In beta; get on the invite list here.

What’s next: Android support; more discovery features; a marketplace for Periodical titles.

Atavist’s Creatavist: Publish multimedia stories

What you can do with it: Create multimedia stories and publish them as apps, ebooks and for the web.


What we like: You can create a one-time project and push it out to the world. You don’t have to commit to publishing regularly or on a set schedule.

Background and funding: Creatavist, which launched in April, is the software that Atavist originally developed in order to publish its own e-singles. Atavist has raised $1.5 million in its first funding round and an undisclosed amount in a second round from Scott Rudin and Barry Diller’s IAC. (Atavist is providing the technology for Diller and Rudin’s yet-to-launch digital publishing house.)

Platforms supported: Web, iOS. Users can also export their works as ebooks and upload them to digital bookstores like Kindle.

Number of users: N/A, but companies working with Creatavist so far include NPR and corporations like the Four Seasons. Atavist CEO Evan Ratliff told me that a lot of photographers are also using the platform.

Cost: Free to create one story and publish it on the web and in Creatavist’s iOS app; $10 per month to create unlimited stories and publish them on the web and in Creatavist’s iOS app. An option to publish stories through your own branded iOS app and on the web is coming soon, with pricing starting at $250 per month.

Availability: Available now.

What’s next: Within the month, users will be able to sell their works through Creatavist’s app (right now, they can only give them away for free). Atavist will take a cut of the sales; that amount has yet to be determined.

29th Street Publishing: Publish mobile magazines

What you can do with it: Publish and sell web and iOS magazines as individual apps. 29th Street Publishing, like Periodical, embraces the subcompact publishing model.

The Awl

What we like: 29th Street Publishing isn’t open to everyone, but because the company closely vets the publishers it works with, you know as a reader that you are getting high-quality content. And the vetting process forces publishers to come up with concrete publication plans. 29th Street also provides publishers with a custom-built iOS analytics platform.

Background and funding: The NYC-based 29th Street Publishing was cofounded by former Six Apart employees David Jacobs and Natalie Podrazik. Editorial director Blake Eskin was previously web editor at The New Yorker.

Platforms supported: iOS.

Number of users: 29th Street Publishing chooses which publishers to work with. Among the 12 publications currently available are The Awl’s Weekend CompanionNew York Review of Books editor Ann Kjellberg’s Little Star Weekly, and Maura Johnston’s Maura Magazine.

Cost: 29th Street helps develop, design and build magazine apps for free and then takes a revenue share of subscriptions. It also licenses its CMS, app and analytics platform to companies that don’t want to do a revenue share or that want to put out a free magazine (like ProPublica).

Availability: It’s not open to everyone; see above. “For us to work with someone, we want to make sure that their work makes sense for our platform, that they have an audience (or they have a clearly defined potential audience), and that we believe that they are going to make good on their commitment to subscribers,” cofounder and CEO Jacobs told me. “Over time, we’re going to open the platform up much more broadly, but we’re being selective for now as we focus on the product.”

What’s next: Maura Magazine will launch a web version this month, and Android versions of some titles are coming this fall. 29th Street even plans to experiment with print.

Ghost: Open-source, crowdfunded blogging platform

What you’ll be able to do with it: Publish a blog in a simple and elegant, open-source platform that provides more control over content than Tumblr but is simpler than WordPress. “It differentiates from Tumblr in being open source — which means you own your data, and you can control every part of the program (neither of which you can do with Tumblr),” founder John O’Nolan, a former WordPress exec, told me. “It differentiates from WordPress in being for bloggers. WordPress is a big complicated content management system that can power all sorts of websites. Ghost is just for blogs.”


What we like: The platform looks beautiful and has a one-stop dashboard that combines your blog’s traffic and performance data in one place.

Background and funding: Founded by former WordPress exec John O’Nolan, Ghost raised £196,362 (USD $298,627) in a successful Kickstarter campaign this spring (far beyond its £25,000 goal). Ghost will operate as a nonprofit software foundation.

Platforms supported: Web; responsive design will work on all devices.

Number of users: Ghost hasn’t launched yet, but 5,236 people backed its Kickstarter campaign.

Cost: Free; a paid hosted service will be available later this year.

Availability: Ghost should be available by the end of the summer. Blog via Evernote

What you can do with it: Publish notes created in Evernote to a personal blog. “People who use Evernote are very passionate about Evernote,” cofounder Shawn Adrian told me, noting that the company’s seen a bunch of users switch over from Tumblr.

What we like: The fact that you can make a “curated” blog with all types of content — recipes, articles and so on — that you’ve saved to Evernote.

Background and funding: Two-month-old is based in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Cofounders Shawn Adrian and Gavin Vickery previously built QuoteRobot, which is proposal and invoice-creating software for web designers, and Adrian describes that as their “bread and butter app.” They’ve received $200,000 in funding from Vancouver’s Full Stack Ventures. Evernote reached out after seeing on Hacker News, and it’s a contestant in the 2013 Evernote Devcup.

Platforms supported: Web. Users tag notes for — which can include text, audio, video, images and links, as well as Evernote Food posts and web clips — in Evernote and they’re automatically published to a blog. Users can also import their Tumblr to their blog.

Number of users: 3,500.

Cost: Free, with a premium version planned.

Availability: In beta, available to anyone.

What’s next: Tighter integration with Evernote, pro themes, more sharing and discovery features, a premium version. Adrian said that the company is also talking with Evernote about referral fees when users upgrade to Evernote Premium.

Glipho: Blog with built-in social features

What you can do with it: Create a blog, then publicize that blog through Glipho’s built-in social network. Users rank and highlight content, some of which is spotlighted on Glipho’s homepage. SEO tools are built in, and users can follow writers and topics they’re interested in.


What we like: The curation and recommendations provide a service for readers as well as writers.

Background and funding: The London-based Glipho launched its public beta in March and has 6 employees in the U.K. and one in the U.S.; it’s hiring three more employees in the U.S. to open a Boston-based office. Founder and CEO Roger Planes previously developed software and websites for journalists. The company has raised $750,000 in a seed round.

Platforms supported: Web; import existing blogs from Tumblr, WordPress and Blogger. Glipho has an Android app and is awaiting approval from Apple on an iOS app.

Number of users: N/A, but Glipho says it has users from 120 different countries who have published or imported over 150,000 blog posts.

Cost: Free.

Availability: Available now.

What’s next: Mobile app improvements and release of Glipho’s API.

30 Responses to “Six digital publishing startups to watch”

  1. Interesting article on the various platforms available for small time writers. Still if one has to go big, they would have to approach the publishing houses to get their work known. But you will never know – these platforms might break the current distribution method and make publishing a lot easier.

  2. gmccoy

    There is a new option that launched only a few days ago named LitHive. It is the successor to the PULP platform (the tech behind Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear’s “The Mongoliad” project) just opened a few days ago at

    It is focused on helping writers, editors, and publishing teams to create direct-to-consumer literary experiences that grow audience and monetize content with very author-friendly legal turns.

  3. Laertes L

    I too am an Ether author with 5 stories published by them. It is an excellent platform that has meant that my stories have found a significant number of readers. A win win for author and reader.

  4. rebeccaemin

    I recommend Ether as both a reader and a writer. I have been writing for them and following their progress since 2010 and have read a lot of stories via the app as well, it’s brilliant for discovering new authors and for filling those odd minutes when you are waiting for appointments etc.

  5. Taree Belardes

    I see it’s already been mentioned several times, but I stumbled upon Ether Books last year and was impressed with the quality, community, and veritable feast of stories at my fingertips anytime, anywhere. I even entered a fun writing contest they offered around Halloween and it really kicked off the spooky spirit we all look forward to around that time of year. Since then, I’ve become kind of addicted, and am in the process of submitting some more stories, all the while enjoying reading many more from talented writers all over the world! Once again….

  6. Thank you Laura.

    In the past few weeks I’ve been looking for a better way, another option, to try to make a living from my creative and intellectual talent. I’m brand new to paidContent, and all I can say is that it is an incredibly important and useful site. Refreshing, and well-written, especially in terms of presenting rather complex information in an understandable format.

    Keep up the amazing work.

    It’s very much appreciated, especially since it allows me to delay my “last resort” option – stand-up comedy. Since I once was a hockey goalie, I think I could take the flying tomatoes that go along with that choice, though I’d still rather have them come through Windows to get at me! :-)

  7. Trace Cohen

    I would also check out – they’re a digital publishing platform for conferences/expos to build digital media centers that crowd-source original content from exhibitors and show partners to create a central location online for ALL the show news. CES and AEM, the two biggest shows in the country use them:

  8. jimdunkley

    Etherbooks is an exciting new development of on-line publishing; a platform for short story ficton and non-fiction that is downloadable from a free app to Iphone and Android phones. As an Ether writer I’ve found it a marvelous opportunity to spread the word worldwide about your stories and connect with other writers while benefiting from the state of the art business and creative experience of the Ether team. As a writer or short story fiction lover give Ether books a try!

  9. ehhowarduk

    How did you miss It’s gaining a great reputation amongst online communities for high quality content. Look at the morass of kindle ebooks. Any monkey with a keyboard can put one on there. Surely, professional moderation is the only way to keep a high standard and attract the general public.

    I have content on both incidentally.

  10. Irena Pasvinter

    EtherBooks App for Aplle and Android offers a wide range of short stories, both paid and free, of all genres, from hundreds of writers, authors ranging from such masters as Hillary Mantel to beginning writers like me. Perfect for reading while commuting.

  11. As suggested by Ewan Lawrie, Ether Books is one-to-watch. A publisher of short stories from ‘living writers’, including double Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel (and other famous authors as well as – their strength – new ‘undiscovered’ writers), for download to iPhone, iPad and Android devices, Ether offers the busy reader bite-sized fiction that they can enjoy whilst having a moment, for example: on the bus, waiting for a friend in a cafe or even on the toilet! There’s a wide range of authors and genres to choose from, making new writers particularly accessible to new readers. It’s a great concept.

  12. Ether Books is publishing high-quality content that suits today’s mobile lifestyle. It deserves credit for what it is: a superb platform for connecting writers and readers.

  13. Ewan Lawrie

    check out mobile App EtherBooks: their paid content is of consistent high-quality, with writers ranging from the ueber-famous to those who will be, very soon.

  14. Have you come across Ether Books? They are a start-up that loads short fiction and other material onto an app for iPhone/Pad and Android so you can access them anywhere. I’m an Ether author so perhaps biased but I can say that material is curated, apart from the download competitions when it’s a free-for-all! Fun, accessible young company with a lot of drive.

  15. Fascinating piece, I’m interested in the blog platforms as it often seems that the earlier you get on board with new start-ups the more chance you have of being “seen”. I currently use Blogger and while it is fine to use, one often feels that one is just a tiny figure in a “Where’s Waldo” picture, desperately jumping up and down and trying to be noticed.
    I got on board very early with Ether Publishing in the UK for my short story publishing platform, and they’ve been amazing. They are just reaching the point of a snow ball gathering pace on a hill, building up speed and getting bigger.
    Those at the bottom had better watch out!

    • Thanks for the comment, Tony. I’ll check out Ether Publishing. As for the blogging platforms, I hope you found some new options here – I’m very curious to try Ghost when it launches later this summer.

  16. Nicholas Night

    Nice article, Laura! Unfortunately, there is another key player in this market you missed. Revizzit – – is a broadcast-style platform that let’s creators produce, publish and sell any kind of digital content – from private websites to ebooks, indie films and more. Everything created in Revizzit remains “live-connected”, meaning that the product can be updated anytime and instantly change every copy in existence.

    Revizzit publishes to their suite of apps for Mac, PC and iPad, and Android coming soon. The platform is being used by many bestselling authors, and has products ranging from magic to self-help to bellydancing!

  17. Nikolaos Nanas

    With our forthcoming authoring tool will also become a full fledged publishing platform. It will allow everyone to curate or author an intelligent magazine that adapts to the interests of each individual reader.