People use multimedia in different ways. I actually think The New York Times has incredible multimedia. With their interactive graphics, I don’t even know how they make that stuff so quickly. There are so many examples of really great stuff out there. I think the curse of publishing is that you’re just trying to bring as many people as possible to the page. And if I had a complaint, it would be clutter—they’re just offering all these different things in your field of vision at once and you don’t know where to click. But that’s just bad design; that’s almost a truism.
For us, I think that the thing we try to stick to is if we’re going to have a video that’s going to play a big part in the story, it really has to be part of the story. So you really have to gain something by watching it; it has to advance the story in some way and make it better. So the problem online is that everyone’s trying to do multimedia, and there’s a tendency to just do something because you can. I don’t necessarily think that’s bad, if you have a website and you think, “Well, maybe people will click on this, so let’s put it up there.” But I think we just wanted it all to be integrated in a way.
And what do you think of the iPad and iPhone apps you’ve seen? Do you have an opinion about how newspapers and magazines could do better in the mobile format?
Well, we’re really small and experimental. I think people often want me to say that the big-magazine apps out there are really crappy, that they’re not doing it right. But it’s more like, I have empathy for them, because we’re trying to do it too, and it’s very difficult. You have to answer questions like, “Should it be a floating page, or should it be scrollable?” That’s like a huge debate that people have—and there’s no answer! People will say, “No, it has to be pages that flip. That’s what people like.” But they don’t know what people like. That’s just what they like.
So I actually like a lot of the magazine apps out there, and I like that they’re trying different things. If there’s a problem with them, it’s that sometimes they’re required to translate directly from print into an app, and that’s very difficult, because it’s a completely different experience. The best ones don’t do that, though. I like The New Yorker app. I like the Wired app. I like the Popular Science app a lot. I actually like The Daily. I think that what The Daily did in terms of sharing stories, which everyone makes fun of, is actually quite clever.
One more question, back to The Atavist. I assume that these stories are very expensive to produce, not just journalistically but also because of all of the design. How did you decide what to charge for each story? I’m also curious about the decision to sell the stories individually, rather than selling subscriptions.
They are expensive to produce, relative to the things that are very popular to get into now, which are mainly short opinion things. Short opinion is the cheapest thing to produce; long journalism is the most expensive thing to produce. We’re trying to confront that by having this smaller model, where we’re kind of in business with the writer. So we’re paying the writer something to do it—to cover their expenses and also to give them a fee—and then we’re splitting the revenues with them, in the hopes that we can make back our money that we’ve paid them, we can make a profit, and then they can make the kind of money that they would’ve made if they had done it for a magazine.