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.
The decision to sell them individually is in part derived from that, because if you bundle a bunch of stuff together, it’s difficult to tell what each author should be paid. And we want our readers to know that every time they buy a story, a significant portion of what they’ve paid is going directly to the writer. That’s one of the difficult things about a magazine—if you were doing to do that, how would you split it up? So that’s part of it. And also, we really do think of them like short books. There’s this length that almost never gets published in print, that now people can do digitally. You can see other people doing it now—there’s Byliner, and Kindle Singles is all about this. There’s this length that is sort of new, to produce things like this at this level.
The price is sort of derived from a proportional size to a book. So if you look at how much an e-book costs, and then you look at the length of our story versus the length of a traditional book, then the price kind of comes in there. Then there’s a price difference between the Kindle version and the app version, because the app version has all the multimedia while the Kindle is just the straight-up story.
That revenue-sharing plan kind of reminds me of the book industry. An author gets a book deal and gets an advance, and then writes the book, and then gets a share of the profits afterward.