The Continued Rise of Indie Magazines

I really love the business model Offscreen magazine has built for itself. They've taken the book publishing model and married it to the magazine model in a tasteful and profitable way.

Their idea (introducing you to the people who build great stuff on the web) could have been a book, a Youtube channel, or a podcast. But they made it a magazine.

They made it valuable by considering, in minute detail, the quality of the content, then actually printing it. It sells for $20, but also takes a few sponsors. The sponsors are featured in a small section, designed by the editor of magazine. They're not ads, nor are they obtrusive. This is a great idea. Check out the video above for how it's done.

Once this model is established, you can sell back issues, ancillary products and sponsorships on publications about your publication (your blog, your email newsletter).

Much of this is done with book publishing as well, but with magazine publishing you can sell a single idea over and over to your fans. In book publishing, it's usually one and done. Come up with a new idea and write another book if you want another $20.

Magazine publishing is still a very risky model that requires lots of hard work (I know more people who left the business purely due to the shipping headaches than people who started new magazines), but the pay off is so tempting, indie magazines like Offscreen are popping up everywhere.

In fact, Offscreen's weekly email newsletter just featured 33 indie magazines and asked readers to click on their favorites (3 readers will get 3 issues of each magazine, 99 issues total). I thought I knew how niche a niche magazine could get, but I was wrong. Some of these ideas are insane and I love it! 

Resolve to not resolve this year

In this week's newsletter: The secret of book covers, new optimism, and your blooper reel.    

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Does Google Miss Google Reader?

Every year at this time I take a look at what’s changed in online publishing, dedicate myself to taking advantage of what I’ve learned, and then realize I’m better at things like newsletters and books than whatever is trendy. It’s fun to watch, though.

The biggest question I have right now is whether Google wishes it hadn’t killed Google Reader.

When Google started their social network, they (like Twitter) had Facebook envy. Google Reader was shut down likely because Google wanted it’s own walled garden for advertisers, especially after ad blockers made their ad agency buyouts less effective for tracking. This crushed indie blogging and propped up big polarizing publishers and bots, leading to 2016’s messed up media landscape. It only surprised those who weren’t paying attention (so most of the public).

After dealing with the political fallout from these changes, now Facebook’s strategy has changed again and the walls are closing in, crushing indies who grew up within the walls. Google built AMP as its latest attempt to wall us in, trying to embrace the web again (a web that would’ve been much more vibrant had it not killed Google Reader).

All of this means, we get to watch talented bloggers get creative about how to thrive in this new publishing world. Readers should get creative too.

There's Nothing Magical about Creativity

I've been preaching about how creativity is really just problem solving. There's nothing magical about it. Give your brain enough room and it will be creative.

You could even schedule it. You should schedule it.

Neuroscientist Sam Harris has spent the past few years studying artificial intelligence and how it relates to the human mind. He would probably agree with me, but took it up a notch during a recent episode of his podcast:

“A.I. is already doing [creative things] in rudimentary ways...I don’t think there’s anything magical about our wetware as far as creativity goes. I think we’ll recognize it in our intelligence systems in so far as they become intelligent.”

That statement is a lot more substantial than it sounds at first. He's saying if you throw enough intelligence at a system at it can be creative.

Consider that for decades we've been telling people to focus on creativity to avoid having their jobs taken by automation. Now, it looks like automation will have that covered without breaking a sweat.

He doesn't commit to saying consciousness is merely a function of intelligence, but hints that may be the case as well.

The future is looking more interesting for sure. Not secure, but interesting.

I'd still place my bets on creative pursuits being the last to go professionally. But for hobbyist artists, I'd stress even more to be creative because it makes you happier and healthier. It shouldn't matter that an app may do what you do better and faster some day.

Any app today could write more legibly than I do, but I still write with a pen because it's more fun. I still take instant photos just because it's fun.

I think the "just because it's fun" thing will be the last thing A.I. attempts after conquering the professional world, and maybe then we'll get along just fine.

Why Tumblr Was the Best

Shawn Blanc (in his newsletter): 

"Tumblr encouraged you to post anything and everything: quotes, links, conversations with friends, photos, videos, articles, etc.
On the one hand, this led to tons of Tumblrs being the online equivalent of an angsty teenager’s messy bedroom. But on the other hand it also encouraged folks to put stuff out there day after day.
For the most part, I am an advocate for the idea that constraint breeds creativity. But sometimes the constraints need to be removed so you can just get unstuck.
And that’s something Tumblr got absolutely right. Because Tumblr had all sorts of various post types, there was no right or wrong thing to publish. You could share anything you found to be interesting or special or unique or funny or helpful, no matter the format. It all counted. You didn’t even need to have a title."

Shawn is absolutely right. I've tried every major consumer CMS and several (universally horrible) enterprise CMSs. Tumblr is the best CMS I've ever used for sharing anything online. It isn't even close.

I miss it constantly.

I don't feel like I left it as much as it left me. I was willing to pay whatever they were willing to charge. But instead of going after millions by charging for their product, they went after billions by turning their users into their product. Just like Twitter.

How's that working out?

As for the part about constraints, I've always stressed constraints in creating art, not necessarily sharing art. There were certainly design and function constraints all over Tumblr, so I wouldn't say it was free of constraints. It just made the sharing frictionless, which is something desperately needed outside of the social network walls today.

Photo Safari

The podcast I just did with Jon Wilkening brought up a lot of topics centered around photography in the 1990s. Why the 90s?

I consider the 1990s the golden age of film photography. The amounts and variety of new film, film cameras, paper and chemicals would never be better.

Something that was missing, though, was the amount and variety of instructional and inspirational video content we enjoy today. There was no YouTube back then.

But there was Photo Safari.

Photo Safari was a weekend morning, half-hour TV show that changed networks and formats multiple times. It started as a way to tag along, through video, with icons of nature and wildlife photography, like Art Wolfe and Robert Glenn Ketchum, as they worked in the field. They would pass along tips to the camera or to guests.

Gear-wise, it was anything goes. You really got a feel for how professional photographers at the top of their game were just using rugged, reliable (even constraining) gear, not the latest Leica.

I tuned in (or taped on my VCR) for the inspiration of watching a master at work. Then, I'd grab my camera, call a friend and find a good place to shoot, emulating the masters. I did this for years back in my 20s.

Eventually, ratings reality caught up with Photo Safari and the niche show changed its name to Canon Photo Safari, as its sponsor transformed it into little more than a weekly infomercial. All the photographers were required to use Canons, which left out all my favorite photographers, who had endorsement deals with Nikon and Pentax (not to mention the large format shooters). Celebrity photographer guests, like William Shatner and David Allen Greer, became more of a distraction on the show. In an effort to gain a wider audience, the show lost its devoted, hobbyist fans.

I love that Youtube and Vimeo have brought us a new universe of photography knowledge, but I miss that weekly hit of inspiration I got from the masters on this tiny, quiet show about my favorite hobby.

I tried to dig up some episodes of Photo Safari's early years, but only managed to find a few clips from Canon's version of the show on Youtube. I guess I'll need to dig through the VHS tapes piled at my parents' house if I want to relive this part of the golden age of film.



Has Photography Gone from an Introvert to Extravert Hobby?

Great observation from Guy Tal on the mindset of analogue (or traditional) vs. digital (or modern) photographers:

“It used to be that photography was the favored avocation of introverts, allowing unquestioned solitary time in a darkroom—a private world behind a closed door where magic unfolded in development trays under the eerie glow of a safelight, and where one could be alone with their thoughts, disconnected from society, without having to explain. The photographer then was an eccentric, an alchemist, an observer. Today’s mainstream photographers seem almost the opposite: bold and outspoken and public; no longer experiencing, observing, and reacting, but planning and executing, broadcasting and marketing not only their photographs and thoughts but also their travels, corporate sponsors, and lifestyles, and even their most trivial accomplishments, to the widest audience they can reach.”

Chris Hardwick on Scheduling and Note Taking

The Evernote podcast recently interviewed Chris Hardwick about his productivity habits. How did he go from unknown stand-up comic to the guy who seems to be the go-to nerd representative on TV?

First, he puts a priority on scheduling and organizing his calendar:

"There’s no trick to getting better at stuff, you just have to do that stuff. In order to do that, you have to organize your time."
"I think color-coding your calendar is really important because if your calendar is just full one color, it’s going to look like an overwhelming mess. Color helps you realize that your events are modular. The color is going to tell you what emotional importance it has, so you can make better decisions about how and where to put things and balancing out your days. Like, “oh I have all green this one"

Then, he stresses writing EVERYTHING down.

It’s important to write everything down. Whether it’s a notebook or Evernote or whatever, keep track of all that stuff because it allows you to manipulate it, like in your color-coded calendar, to make that information into modular bits of useful data that you can move around and use in more effective ways. 
In the same way that you would organize a closet, and have everything stacked and put exactly where you know where everything is, it allows you to do that emotionally with your life in all the intangible things that you can’t see, but you experience. And it allows you to create so much better of an emotional flow for work and your personal life. But you can’t do that unless you really start tracking all that stuff.