I’m planning more posts about the future of publishing to complement the series that my editor at Frommer’s Mark Henshall wrote a month or so back. Mark dealt mainly with theory – although he also provided lots of links to examples.
But what about the practice?
Actually publishing on the iPad or adapting a guidebook series for the iPhone? How easy is it? What works and what doesn’t?
I got a recent email from a guy called Thomas Tegart. He and a friend are self-publishing a new travel magazine on the iPad called Overnight Buses. What I particularly like is their focus on ‘long form’ content (as it’s called these days). To you and me – a decent read rather than the usual 500 words of fluff or contrived list of top whatevers that constitutes a travel piece on-line.
So I asked him a bunch of questions and he provided some interesting responses! You can try the launch edition of Overnight Buses for FREE from the app store.
If you’re a travel company or tourist board they’re looking for launch advertisers with free spots available to help them test the product – see Q4. If you’re a travel writer, they are accepting submissions – I’ve provided a link at the end of this post.
Their submission guidelines made me smile:
“NO guides, how-to’s, where to’s, what’s hot, hotel reviews, top-ten beach lists, best places to go, recommendations or anything involving a cruise ship unless a murder took place and you solved it. Please.” [emphasis theirs!]
Over to you Thomas…
What made you set up Overnight Buses Travel Magazine (OBTM)?
The reasons were both personal and professional. I was a lawyer sick of working 15 hour days, and my co-founder wanted the chance to design something besides ads. We both love travel and love reading travel writing and the chance to contribute something more to that genre was very appealing. The normal entrepreneurship reasons also apply: the chance to control your own destiny and to shape your own company. Both of us also wanted to create a social responsible company that would play a part in the community we live in. It's not yet happening because the revenue isn't there, but we hope in the future it will be something we're proud of.
What differentiates OBTM from similar publications?
What differentiates us from a content point of view is our focus on long-form travel articles. There is quite a bit of competition in the travel website space and from blogs and travel magazines in general, but many of them don't publish really long travel narratives. Three of our current travel articles are over 5000 words. We also decided not to focus on destination pieces or short snippets. That is our main differentiator in terms of content. We differentiate ourselves on the App Store by our concentration on design. Ours is a pretty simple app, but we focused on readability, even going so far as to count our characters per line to make sure they were the optimal length for reading. My co-founder Jen Kuhn is a CLIO award winning designer, so that helped too.
As far as I know, there are not any other long-form travel magazines on the iPad yet; we're the only one. There is another iPad travel magazine start-up called TRVL that focuses on mostly travel photography, and of course the established big media players in the industry have their iPad apps. There are also some long-form apps out there and webpages dedicated to longer stories, like the Atavist and Longreads, but nothing dedicated solely to travel writing on the iPad.
How do you see self-publishing like this changing/developing in the next 12 to 18 months?
I see a lot more independent publishers like us getting into the act. Publishing is basically free if you know how to design and can learn a bit of code. Our platform is a free open source publishing tool called Baker. So for us, we managed to design and launch a travel magazine in about 4 months with just two people. Besides the cost of acquiring content, the only other cost was the $99 fee to become an Apple developer. Of course, we already had the Adobe software, a Mac and everything else needed to design, but basically anyone else with a Mac could have done the same thing using free tools as well.
What will make OBTM financially successful?
Finding advertisers that fit our brand and expanding our readership base, just like other magazines. There are over 60 million iPads out there, so if you think in old school terms of the market opportunity, that's basically almost the population of Great Britain. Definitely enough to support a few travel magazines. Another thing that will make us successful is finding great contributors and raising our rates to get the best stories.
In terms of revenue, we will be testing out ads with an update to make sure our analytics is working and matching up page views correctly (we are giving out free space in exchange for people helping us test). Then we plan on soliciting ads for our second issue that will be launched in July. Incidentally, if you know anyone at a tourism board who might be interested in a free ad let me know. All they would have to do is share their analytics with us to make sure our ad is counting everything correctly. The ad would only run for a few months, so not very long. We already have ads for an app, a guidebook and some travel books, so a tourism ad would be a great way to show some diversity while we're testing.
Do you have any start-up funding?
We don't have any investors. I had saved up a bit of money as a lawyer and we're using that to buy our stories, so we're pretty bootstrapped. We have enough for a few issues and will be using advertising to extend that period as we go. Really the only thing that made this possible was Baker, as it allowed us to use our current skills to publish. It’s basically a wrap around for a website. Our app is really running on Mobile Safari, Apple's web browser, but all the content is on the device, so no internet connection is necessary. Baker allows you to code normal webpages and then wraps it up in an app and hides that from the user. Before Baker we were stuck with figuring out how to publish without needing to learn how to code. Baker still requires a bit of Mac coding skills, which I had to learn, along with knowing how to code HTML, which I also had to learn. But coding HTML is rather simple to understand and Mac coding is not, so Baker put our app within reach.
How do you plan to build an audience?
I'm doing a PR campaign by myself. My co-founder Jen has a full-time job at the moment, so her spare time is taken up with that and then designing the next issue. That's about it for now until we have advertising revenue, which should begin with the second issue. Our contributors have been very helpful in spreading the word so far as well and the App Store also provides a built-in audience, though not as much as you would expect.
What 3 things would you differently/key things have you learnt so far?
I'm not sure we would have done much differently. I've made a few mistakes so far in my PR campaign, but nothing too serious. One of the key things I've learned is to stay motivated. Doing a PR campaign is like getting constantly rejected for dates, it's quite discouraging. But staying positive is key. So is only concentrating on what NEEDS to be done. We both have stuff we want to get done, like having a great website or being on twitter, but we both have realized we don't have the energy for everything. So we try and concentrate only what has to be done to launch.
I also wish I was a better editor. We get many submissions that are good stories, but they're not great. I can tell a great story from a good one, I just can't edit a good story into a great one. I know something is wrong with the story, but I can't tell the author how to fix it. It’s a drawback of mine that I wish I knew how to fix, because it's hard to turn writers away. Some stories just need a little work, but I can't seem to pin down what it is.
If you’d like to write for Overnight buses check out the submissions guidelines
And if you’d like to try it out head to the App store – it’s FREE for now.
Have you considered publishing an iPad app? Do you reckon this idea will work?