MagCloud: The Future of Publishing

How I became a magazine publisher

I never thought that a chance meeting on a Boston bus would lead to me having anything in common with Steve Forbes, Oprah Winfrey and Jann Wenner. But, like the publishers of FORBES, O and Rolling Stone, I’m now a magazine publisher.

It all began the day I met Udi Chatow, part of the MagCloud project team at Hewlett-Packard. We were attending the annual HP TechCon symposium. Udi told me how MagCloud enables anyone to publish a magazine. The team were looking for non-profit associations to test the service. As the President of the non-profit Northern California National Speakers Association I knew our association needed a showcase for members’ articles about public speaking. Within a few short weeks we had selected five articles, sourced some illustrations from a stock photo website and, with design help from Meghan Kennedy in HP Labs, created the inaugural edition. Professionally Speaking is a 20-page color magazine that’s available for purchase from magcloud.com. Best of all, there was none of the up-front cost associated with printing.

We announced the Summer 2008 edition of Professionally Speaking on June 13, 2008. Our Fall 2008 edition will be published in September.

MagCloud: the future of magazine publishing

MagCloud is a new business incubation resulting from collaboration between HP Labs and HP’s Corporate Ventures team. It’s where the world wide web meets the world of printing. MagCloud offers publishers the ability to take digitized magazines and economically promote, sell, print and fulfill them on demand.

It costs you nothing to publish a magazine on MagCloud.com. The service lets you upload a high-resolution PDF and MagCloud takes care of the rest: printing, mailing, subscription management and more. The MagCloud website functions as a virtual newsstand, where readers can browse and, using PayPal or a credit card, order publications. The publisher specifies a markup on each copy sold, which MagCloud collects and pays the publisher at the end of each month.

MagCloud uses HP Indigo digital press technology to custom-print each issue when it’s ordered. Printing on demand means no big print runs, which means no pre-publication expense. The resulting magazines are in gorgeous full color on 80lb paper.

This is a breakthrough for niche publications – the small ‘zines’ which form the long tail of the magazine publishing world. It’s also an interesting opportunity for large publishers. They are now free to experiment and create riskier products and see if they can find an audience.

The New Economics of Magazines

The MagCloud development team is looking at much more than printing technology. They are researching the fundamental economics of magazine publishing. Team member and economist Kay-Yut Chen states:

“MagCloud is enabling a completely new kind of print economics. It is reducing the distance between the publisher, the subscriber and the advertiser compared to traditional magazines. In the traditional model, someone who wants to run an advertisement in, say TIME Magazine, has to engage in a labor-intensive negotiation with high transaction costs. The automation we’re building into the MagCloud system means even a very small publisher and small advertiser can do business cost-effectively.”

By simplifying all aspects of the publishing process MagCloud benefits publishers, subscribers and advertisers – making a whole Print 2.0 ecosystem much more efficient than the existing model.

MagCloud’s Guiding Principle

The guiding principle of the project is that anyone can be a publisher. What they will do as publishers remains to be seen. “MagCloud is an enabling platform,” states Udi Chatow. “People are finding new opportunities that did not exist before. We don’t want to second guess what they will be.”

MagCloud Today

The project is still in early Beta stage. What this means in practice is that anyone can register on the site and browse and purchase magazines. Publisher capability is by invitation only, though rumor has it that invitations are distributed liberally. The reason is the development team is seeding a new market. They are looking for publishers who serve specific niches.

The world first heard about MagCloud when a couple of blogs broke the news in mid-June. Since then literally thousands of requests to publish have been received. They come from an astounding variety of organizations – from juggling associations to Stanford University athletics; from cartoonists to photographers.

SFentrepreneur visits HP Labs

Following a June 24th visit by 20 members of the Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association to HP Labs, SFentrepreneur founder Edith Yeung organized a visit by 40 members of her organization on August 21st.

HP Labs MagCloud meeting

The evening visit took in a talk by Udi and a tour of the Indigo printing press and a panel session where magazine publishers shared insights. I spoke about the experience of creating Professionally Speaking. Edith gave every member of the audience a complimentary copy of SFentrepreneur.

SFentrepreneur magazine

There was an incredible level of interest by these entrepreneurs. Many saw how a magazine could serve their niche.

The highlight of the evening was when the MagCloud team surprised us with a special 8-page souvenir magazine of photographs of the event they’d taken during the reception and tour. This is a great example of how MagCloud extends the boundaries of publishing. Training program managers and conference organizers can create just-in-time magazines for events.

What’s unique about MagCloud

Publishers can repurpose and monetize online and user-generated content. Printing costs are lower for small magazine and promotional runs of a few dozen, a few hundred or even a few thousand copies. There are automated web based ordering and print management services to take the headaches out of production. Financial transactions between buyers and the publishers are handled automatically to ease the flow of money to the bottom line. The site also offers a unique demand creation vehicle that publishers can showcase. It all adds up to the pleasure and prestige of seeing yourself in print at very low cost. It’s the people’s printing press.

Finally, it solves the back-issue problem for publishers. Virtual magazines never go out of print and readers can order any copy at any time from any where as long as it remains posted to magcloud.com.

Readers are free to enjoy a virtual magazine newsstand in the cloud. They can access a wide array of specialized and unique content in a printed magazine format that is not readily available elsewhere. If they find something they would like to order, it’s printed on demand and delivered directly to their mailbox.

Green Magazine Publishing

By taking advantage of print on demand, magazines are only printed by people who actually intend to read them.. This is much more environmentally friendly than the current magazine industry where an incredible 60% of the 3.8 billion magazines delivered to news-stands in the USA are never sold (or read). That’s over 2.3 billion wasted magazines that end up in recycling.

Variable print technology and future of MagCloud

This online marketplace of digital magazines holds the same promise as iTunes for music lovers. It allows readers the opportunity to sample content and purchase only what they need to read. iTunes means you no longer buy a whole album to just listen to a song or two. MagCloud means publishers have the opportunity to offer readers the option to just purchase the one or two articles they are interested in from any issue.

Imagine a future magazine marketplace where readers are free to create ‘mash-ups’ of content from a wide variety of sources. Magazines will be tailored from news articles, blog postings, book excerpts, event schedules, even friends’ recommendations for music, movies, books and more. The magazine is personal again.

No amount of marketing analysis can predict where MagCloud will go. Expect the unexpected. Variable print technology allows the freedom to experiment. “Every page can be different,” says MagCloud engineer Wei Koh. “A publisher is no longer limited to designing only one magazine. They have the option to personalize copies for each subscriber. This has exciting possibilities. We’ve only just scratched the surface.”

Consider a few options:

  • Targeted advertising by zip code give national publications the option to insert low cost ads from regional companies.
  • Editorial pages geared to certain consumers. A restaurant review for your town inserted in a national food publication.
  • Photographs of subscribers on a one-off cover (Congratulations! You are Person of the Year.)

Your call

If you’ve read this far you are obviously interested in MagCloud. You probably have interests, hobbies, association colleagues or an attic filled with grandfather’s photographs which could be digitized and published. Perhaps your kids soccer team needs an end of season souvenir with articles and photographs. Or you could thrill your relatives at this summer’s family reunion with a magazine of the clan. Or perhaps you want to launch a magazine to support your neighborhood or other political campaign. What are you waiting for? Simply go to www.magcloud.com, and complete the request for a publisher invitation.

There’s a publishers guide that walks you through the process.

It’s available as a free download from the site, or for purchase as a printed magazine. What else did you expect?

9 Comments so far
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This is like a digital read-out slide rule; an attempt to keep a dying technology alive. HP needs to sell off the printing business, and start looking at real innovations. Everything they do, they try to turn into “more printing”. Shane Robinson and VJ must be the laughing stock of Silicon Valley.

Too much emphasis is put upon the so called waste of newstand issue sales. I want to point that to the best of my knowledge no magazine has this as their main revenue stream. A subscriber base is crucial. I can see this as being useful for vanity publishing, but otherwise I dont see it working for anyone wanting to make a living or running a publishing business. At 20 cents per page, HP is charging 80 cents per 4/4 12/18 spread. Print 1 or 1000 and the price will stay the same. Moreover for the printer its the click through rate that matters. Printing one ofs is yes possible but not really the optimum way to use digital printing machines. The setup and RIP time is too long. Getting back to the newstand question, well that is marketing and advertising in the magazine business. Avoid it at your own peril.

I’m a journalism student & freelance writer. I’ve been published several times but my dream is to become a Publisher/Magazine Editor. MagCloud is an ace in the pocket for those trying to break into Publishing industry. If nothing else, it’s an awesome stepping stone so I’m thrilled to learn about this!

HP/MAGCLOUD should receive the Noble Prize in Economics (or its equivalent) for this attempt to re-invent such a wasteful industry. Objectively, a Kindle or other ‘year of the table device’ will poison our landfills on its way to solving this problem at hundreds of dollars per latest model PLUS the cost of the electronic publication, AND its fragile server/delivery methods and costs. And, I’m sure no one in Silicon Valley has laughed at the Kindle (or iSlate) lately. And when did Silicon Valley become the Mecca of publishing? As time goes on, if MagCloud solves price-per-page volume issues and volume-order-price issues, this will be a great alternative to our current magazine publishing approach. Another great alternative is MAGHOUND.COM, where you micro-manage your own subscriptions to popular magazines. Thanks HP/MAGCLOUD!

I stumbled upon the MagCloud site by mistake this morning, I am looking forward to giving this a go – being very creative, this looks like an exciting venture for me to at least have a creative outlet.

Magcloud is great! I was registered 2 days ago on my first time visit their site. I think MagCloud will bigger soon.

I hope MagCloud always consistant to open this publishing opportunities for anyone in the world whos interested in magazine publisher’s.

NB: Sorry if my english is not well.

I just wish magcloud.com could pay their publishers with a check or direct deposit. I can’t use PayPal and that is the only form of payment that they offer. It seems a real online business would be able to offer direct deposit and not just rinky dink PayPal.

Ive had a very poor experience with Mag Cloud. I had several issues printed, each one was cropped differently cutting off some text and not centering the spline correctly. Also, very poor customer service from Adriana. 

@Chris, sorry to hear you are having problems. I’ll follow up ASAP to see what we can do to resolve for you. Thanks.



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