Jochem Wijnands, who used to run an online photo agency, and Michel Elings, a technology consultant, found they had a shared passion for travel. They put their heads and networks together to create TRVL, an iPad-only magazine that is the highest rated magazine app on Apple’s App Store. Each issue of the weekly magazine features a single destination through content that taps into the iPad’s multimedia capabilities.
The goal, in Elings’ words, was to “make print feel stupid.”
- Read more about TRVL
“There was no big infrastructure involved,” says Kieran Meeke, the magazine’s editor in chief and the erstwhile features editor for Metro, a UK-based free newspaper with a circulation of over 1.3 million. The iPad, Meeke says, allowed TRVL to “cut out the publishing department, and cut out everything else.”
At first, TRVL tried a paid subscription model, Meeke says, but it didn’t take. They then focused their efforts on building a reader base which could lure advertisers. With 80 issues and 700,000 readers, Meeke says they are well on their way.
In order to remain on Newsstand—a special folder on the iPad and other iOS devices that manages magazine apps—a magazine has to offer a paid subscription, which TRVL does at $0.99 a month. But individual issues are available for free download, and since offering a paid subscription is simply a workaround Newsstand, Meeke says that any subscription revenues are donated to charities.
Though each issue features a long-form narrative travel story, TRVL’s content is heavily geared towards extensive, high-resolution photography with detailed captions. This, Meeke says, is due to the nature of the beast—“The iPad is a platform that shows off digital photography.” That said, he’s been pleasantly surprised by the response to the articles. “The iPad seems to be a curl up device. People are willing to sit down and enjoy reading 2,500 to 3,000 words.”
Readers do spend a substantial amount of time with each issue, between 25 and 30 minutes, according to Meeke. The key, he says, is that each issue needs to take on the voice of the region it depicts. “We don’t want them to know what hotel to stay at. Everybody and their aunty starts a blog. We want more of an old-fashioned style. People feel they’re learning something about what makes the place tick.”
For now, TRVL sustains itself on the pockets of private financial backers, and Meeke says that in the immediate future there’s enough working capital to pay both freelancers and full-time staff. Advertising remains a negligible source of revenue, he says. But as the magazine plans to remain free, it will become the main source of income in the future. TRVL has hired Charlie Parker, an advertising director who previously handled advertising for other iPad publications, to manage its ad sales.
“Our philosophy on the advertising,” Meeke says, “is that we don’t want to abuse the very strong trust we’ve built with our readers.” The plan, he says, is to be “as revolutionary with our advertising as we have been with our content.”
There’s certainly evidence for this in August 2012’s “Vancouver Island / Time Slip” issue. Readers flipping through the digital pages in landscape come across a stunning widescreen beach vista. Tapping the screen once pulls up information on Canon’s new widescreen lens. But those reading in portrait will see a close-up of a pelican flapping its wings, and tapping on the screen will pull up an advertisement that touts the benefits of Canon’s telephoto zoom lens.
Over 40 percent of TRVL’s readers are based in the United States, which Meeke says is the mainstay of the advertising market. But many hail from unexpected parts of the world. “We have more readers in mainland China than the UK,” he says. Part of this might be because developing countries have often embraced new technologies by leapfrogging past existing ones, the way Africa did with wireless communication.
TRVL was launched on WoodWing, a multi-channel publishing software used by many digital magazines. But through a recent investment in developing an in-house publishing platform, they’re looking to gain greater control over all aspects of their product, from analytics to design. They launched on the in-house platform in November 2012.
For now, other tablet devices are not in the reckoning. “At the moment,” Meeke says, “there isn’t a tablet market, there’s an iPad market.”
Like most digital magazines, TRVL relies on a stable of freelance photographers and writers for the bulk of its editorial content. “We don’t pay very well,” Meeke says, “but it’s not too bad.” Curiously enough for a platform that many see as a godsend for photography and long-form journalism, Meeke says he still encounters resistance from some writers and photographers he’s approached. “I think they’re not sold on the idea of the iPad as the future. I’ve been told, in no uncertain terms, to sod off.”
URL: trvl.com (content available exclusively on iPad)
City: Bussum, Netherlands
Revenue Sources, other: private capital
Principal Staff: Jochem Wijnands, co-founder; Michel Elings, co-founder;
Kieran Meeke, editor in chief.
Affiliations: Available exclusively in Apple iTunes store.