After Maura Johnston was let go from the Village Voice in September, she decided that, after six years as a full-time writer, it was time to “prove myself on a grand scale.” On Thursday, she’ll do just that with the debut of her eponymous Maura Magazine, a weekly subscription publication for iOS devices. For $0.99 weekly, $2.99 monthly, or $29.99 annually, readers will get about five cultural stories every week automatically delivered to their iPhones and iPads.
Blogging software has made posting articles to websites as easy as data entry, but creating an iPad app is a much more complicated process. Johnston’s no computer novice — she’s had her own website since 1994 — but developing and maintaining an iPad app would be its own full-time job, a barrier that’s always been too high for most fledgling publications to hurdle.
Not anymore! 29th Street Publishing—co-founded by former Six Apart developers David Jacobs and Natalie Podrazik and the New Yorker’s former Web editor, Blake Eskin—has created a platform that makes setting up and updating an app about as easy as updating a blog. So far, The Awl and Bill Vourvoulias have released apps built on 29th Street’s platform. Johnston’s will be the third. She found 29th Street through Jacobs, who she’s known for a while. Jacobs says the company has
12 signed clients so far (UPDATE: Jacobs says the number is now 20), so there will surely be more rolling out this year.
29th Street’s New York City offices — located on 29th Street (the company name came after they moved in, Jacobs says) — look like the typical downtown startup tech space: open floor plan, wood floors, IKEA furniture, a few comfy chairs, and employees clicking away at computers. There are also stacks of print magazines and academic journals, which Jacobs and his team comb for design inspiration for 29th Street’s app. The latest issue of Bad Day, a thick, biannually-published magazine with a clean, simple design and full-page art, is one of Jacobs’s favorites. Cabinet, The Paris Review, and Daedalus are others.
But the most obvious inspiration for the look of 29th Street’s app is Letter to Jane. That’s because its creator and designer, Tim Moore, is 29th Street’s creative director. As one of 29th Street’s earliest adopters, Johnston worked closely with Moore on own her app’s design. Based on both Johnston and Moore’s design preferences, expect Maura Magazine to look sophisticatedly minimalist.
As for the magazine’s content, don’t expect just the music journalism for which Johnston is best known. She’s looking forward to using Maura to branch out a bit, with articles falling under the broader “cultural coverage” umbrella. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who read Johnston’s recent NPR.org piece, “What Happened To Music Writing This Year?” in which she wondered how music journalism can best serve its readers when the emphasis is increasingly on linkbaiting and easily digested news bits designed for maximum social sharing — pieces that, as Johnston says, “massage the part of your brain that goes into a coma.” Publishing fewer stories less often, Johnston hopes, will allow her writers to produce deeper stories and really develop their craft. “I think there is a market for people who want to curl up with a piece,” she says.
Johnston’s hoping to feature both established and up-and-coming writers, she says. So far, she has articles from Michaelangelo Matos and J. Pablo (whom she worked with at the Voice); Jolie Kerr, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, and Michele Catalano are lined up for the first few issues. Johnston plans to contribute to every issue as well.
This emphasis on fewer but more substantial stories is Johnston’s way of trying to bring digital journalism back to its early days, which she remembers as a time when readers could “burrow down” to find “enclaves of stories” un- or undercovered in mainstream media. “This is my way of trying to bring back that spirit of the Internet that I cut my teeth on in the ’90s,” Johnston says.