When I launched The Magazine in October, I didn’t know whether enough people would subscribe to keep it afloat. I didn’t know whether most people would make fun of the idea, argue that articles on the internet should be free, or be disappointed that my first major new product in nearly five years was “just a magazine”. So I launched a minimum viable product: just the iOS app with a barebones CMS behind the scenes. I had already sunk four months of my time (and thousands of dollars worth of other people’s time) into the app and the first few issues, and my lowest priority was building a website.
I hastily built a basic site while I was waiting for the app to be approved. I only needed it to do two things: send people to the App Store, and show something at the sharing URLs for each article. Since The Magazine had no ads, and people could only subscribe in the app, I figured there was no reason to show full article text on the site — it could only lose money and dilute the value of subscribing.
That was the biggest mistake I’ve made with The Magazine to date.
On January 3, we published And Read All Over, a bold piece by Jamelle Bouie about racial access barriers in the tech press. We got a good number of comments from our readers, but nothing out of the ordinary.
To attract the best writers, including people who already have their own sites with strong readerships, we allow authors to republish their articles on their own sites (or anywhere else) just 30 days after we publish them. Bouie did exactly that, as many of our authors have. Only then did his article explode into the huge discussion I suspected may result from it — and The Magazine wasn’t a part of it.
I think the biggest reason the discussion didn’t happen when we published it is that sharing links to The Magazine’s articles hasn’t really been a great proposition. You’d share a link, and everyone would just see the truncated teaser. Some of them would subscribe and see the rest, but most would get turned off by the truncation and just abandon the effort, as we web readers tend to do. Most people with big followings would quickly realize this and, understandably, avoid linking to our articles.
So as Bouie’s piece was starting great discussions everywhere a month after we published it, I reprioritized web subscriptions from “Maybe I’ll do it in 6 months” to “I’m doing that right now.” And now, three weeks later, it’s done: you can now subscribe to The Magazine on the web, and you can sync subscriptions between the app and the website so you don’t need to pay twice. (I even implemented a crazy passwordless login system. Check it out. You can create an account on the site without subscribing if you want to see it.)
And more importantly, full-text shared links can now exist while keeping the business healthy: they’re now free trials for a porous paywall.
I’ll probably be tweaking the parameters to find the combination that works best, but here’s how it works today:
- Anyone visiting the site can now see one free article, in full, per month.
- Registration is not required.
- Articles that were viewed for free can be viewed as many times as you like, so browser reloads won’t lose them. You can also save them to Instapaper if you use the Read Later bookmarklet.
- On subsequent article pages after the free limit, viewers are shown the teaser and asked to subscribe.
It’s a lot like the New York Times paywall, but with a limit of one free article per month. (We only publish about 11 articles per month, and we don’t run ads like they do, so higher limits would be problematic.)
Please help spread the word: you can now freely share links to your favorite stories from The Magazine. Thanks!