Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Introducing MagCloud and the Future of Magazine Publishing


Short attention span version: For the last year, I’ve been working with HP Labs on a very cool new project. It’s called MagCloud, and it’s the future of magazine publishing. Go see.

Longer attention span version: If you know me at all, you know I’m obsessed with publishing. My mom tells a story about me, in elementary school, having to write a paper about confederate times. Instead, I wrote and designed an entire newspaper, right down to the editorial comics, that took place during the era. This was before I’d even learned the word “procrastination.”

Since then I’ve worked at newspapers and magazines, big and small. I even started a few. And they all had one thing in common: You had to print a giant pile of them, and then hope you could get rid of them all. In college, we once made a giant throne out of undistributed copies of the newspaper I worked on.

The web has changed our thinking about media in ways we’re still figuring out. Now we can make media without the bother of putting ink to paper. We can distribute it planet-wide in an instant. And the content can be customized to your tastes, personalized for each reader. It’s so obvious now, but it’s important to remember what a revolution this has been.

But there’s still something about paper. It’s not just because screens suck to read on (they do, but that hasn’t kept us from doing it all day). There is an intimacy about a good book, a pleasure to the glossy pages of magazines, and, ironically, a permanence to paper. (How many times has a website you really loved simply disappeared?)

So what if we could combine the best parts of the web (no waste, personalized content, open to all) with the best parts of print (sexy print quality, permanence, no batteries required)?

For the last year, I’ve been working on a project with HP Labs called MagCloud. The idea is simple, really. MagCloud enables anyone to start a magazine – a real printed magazine – with no giant pile.

If we were in my office right now, I could motion over to the giant pile of Fray Issue 1s. I’m so proud of the book. It’s a beautiful object. But every morning when I see that pile, my heart sinks.

With MagCloud, there is no giant pile, because every magazine is printed to order. Of course, there are other print-on-demand companies out there, but MagCloud is the only one designed specifically for magazines. And it’s the only one created by HP, the company that makes the Indigo printers that power the print-on-demand industry. (The guys behind the scenes here are smart … and I mean like white-lab-coat smart. They blow me away.) It’s also the only one designed by mister James Goode, who also designed Pixish, and did a brilliant job.

When I look back at all the publishing endeavors I’ve undertaken, one thing stands out. While I was working so hard to change the way content gets made (enabling people on the web to participate in the creation process), I still fell back into the traditional model of magazine distribution. And the traditional model sucks.

Did you know there are just a handful of companies that control which magazines get into which stores? And even if you do get in, you give them all your hard work for free and they only have to pay for the books they sell. How do you know how many they sell? They tell you.

Did you know the average sell-through rate for a magazine is about 30%? The sell-through rate is the rate which a given issue of a magazine will sell from a store. That means 70% of all printed magazines are just stopping by the newsstand on their way to the garbage dump or recycling center. All that time, work, and energy, just to make trash.

There must be a better way. And I think MagCloud is a step in that direction.

There are caveats, of course. The site is a pilot program within HP right now. And it’s in beta, which means things will break, get fixed, and change. And, of course, we have very exciting plans for how to expand the service. The site you see now is just the tip of a very big iceberg.

But after working on it for almost a year, it’s very exciting to see it take its first baby steps on the web. If you’re interested in the future of magazines, if you want to help make it happen, give MagCloud a look.

For me, I’m experimenting with publishing Fray there. I even put together a special “pet stories” issue to test the service.

If you can make a PDF, you can now publish a magazine. On behalf of everyone at MagCloud, I can’t wait to see what you make.

Fray via MagCloud

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Got questions about MagCloud? Ask here.

You don’t need an invite to join – just sign up – but you do need an invite to publish something during the beta. Got a magazine you want to publish? I’ve got a few publisher invites left. Just email me and I’ll hook you up if I can. (Email address: Sew is to sewing as fray is to Yes, it’s a test. I know you can do it.)

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.