Indie Publishing
Field Notes

We love sharing our process of making a print magazine and building a sustainable indie publishing brand. New here? Start with our list of popular posts.

Letter to the editor

Posted on Feb 15 2015 in Letters

I hope you’re doing well! I just wanted to send you a picture of me reading my Offscreen issue 10 with my four-month old, who happens to sort of be named after you. My wife and I were trying to think of names one day and an issue of Offscreen was on the coffee table and I remembered meeting you at XOXO. I asked her what she thinks of “Kai”. We were trying to find a name that works easily in English, Chinese and Japanese and it fit the bill. The name made the short list, then the list and in October of last year little Kai was born :-)

I just thought I’d let you know. Thanks again for all of the hard work you do with Offscreen. It’s by far my favorite magazine to get in the mail :-)
Brian

I’ve said it before and I say it again: I have the bestest readership a publisher could wish for. Thank you, Brian!

Selling sponsorships

Posted on Dec 03 2014 in Thoughts

Not a week goes by without me receiving an email about the way I present sponsors in the magazine. Everyone seems to appreciate their subtlety and how well they integrate into the reading experience. In fact, quite a few other magazines used Offscreen as a source of inspiration to follow a similar sponsorship model (Intern, Wolftree, Future Perfect, and Makeshift come to mind).

Of course, having sponsors is nothing unique. There are lots of other magazines that had sponsors before me and I certainly don’t claim to be the inventor here. However, it’s nice to see other titles following a similarly subtle approach and turning away from the standard (often intrusive) ad slots of traditional magazines because of Offscreen.

Many of the emails I receive ask me how I find my sponsors or how I convince them to participate in Offscreen. The truth is that they don’t really need much convincing. Finding sponsors has so far been fairly easy. (knocks on wood)

I believe the web community is quite unique in that way. Many web companies are used to the idea of sponsorships, because we have so many events that are funded through this support model. Also, frankly speaking, successfully operating web/tech companies usually have quite generous marketing budgets and don’t necessarily request traditional media data before they invest in a particular campaign (I think I’ve been asked for a advertising kit once, and couldn’t provide one). Also, it seems to me that companies in this industry are a lot more open to trying out new things and supporting the underdog where it fits.

No matter what your title is about, finding approachable companies that align with your own values is crucial. Don’t start with the Google of your industry. Start with a company you already have close contacts with, maybe even a local one. Set your initial fee very low. Sponsoring the first issue of Offscreen cost $400 and barely made a dent in the cost of everything, but it helped establish a relationship with those companies. I got a chance to prove that Offscreen is a product worth investing in, and as a result many of those companies are still sponsoring the magazine today!

Here’s an email that I recently sent out to a potential new sponsor showing how I see our sponsors and (hopefully) how they see themselves too. I suggest you don’t simply copy and paste this for your own project, but find your own voice for communicating your goals/values instead.

Let me give you some stats first: I currently print 4500 copies and they all sell out after a while — nothing is wasted. Our readers are some of the smartest and most influential creatives in the web/tech industry, from founders and CEOs to designers and developers running their own shop. Most readers are based in the US, UK and other English-speaking countries, followed by the rest of Europe. That’s all the marketing speak you get from me. ;)

As you may know, a sponsorship is not an ad. It can’t be tracked as such and shouldn’t be compared. With a sponsorship you make your brand part of what I’m doing with Offscreen. You directly link your company to my values and those of my readers.

The folks at Campaign Monitor, for instance, list Offscreen under their ‘giving back’ section. They see sponsorships as a way of making their company known for supporting unique projects that are part of our community.

You will definitely get more clicks by spending the same amount on Google or Facebook ads. Spending it on an Offscreen sponsorship will get you respect and recognition within our industry that is much more difficult to attain. Let’s face it, people like you and me that are part of the web industry hardly ever respond to ads. By supporting products core people in our industry love, your sponsorship tells them “We love it too, and are proud to be supporting it.”

To be honest, I’m not a good sales person, never have been. And as much as it looks like it, I’m not really trying to convince you of anything. In fact, I usually have a few people waiting to become sponsors, though I’m very picky. I personally would love to have ——— on board (maybe even long-term), because from what I hear, people trust and like your service for understanding how web-savvy people tick. That’s exactly what I hear from my readers about Offscreen too.

Finally, if you have a few minutes, Seth Godin sums it up nicely (as always).

Letter to the editor

Posted on Dec 03 2014 in Letters

Dear Kai,

I just wanted to write you a brief note of appreciation. I am in the process of launching a magazine, and I wanted to let you know how much of an influence and an inspiration you have been.

I have never functioned heretofore within the world of web design or app development or anything even vaguely computer-related. Yet, I read every issue of Offscreen from cover to cover, with great relish and enjoyment. The publication itself is what I have come over the last few years to seek, to demand, from the printed word: that is, a tranquil and beautiful diversion from work, from hassle, from being online all the time. Offscreen gives me what I have always sought from books. An escape, a stimulation, a diversion: ideas in physical form. A beautiful one, in this case.

Moreover, I am staggered, and astounded, by the generosity you have shown in putting in the time to keep your blog going. You cannot imagine what an impetus and source of guidance your experiences, your honesty, and your transparency have been. I have read the whole thing, from your first post, and you have saved me huge amounts of time and hassle as you have kept me thinking of things that wouldn’t have occurred to me until it was too late!

I am delighted to hear of every success you enjoy, and I hope it may continue long into the future.

So, simply, thanks a million!

Best regards,
Kieran

Whenever I’m having a hard time working on the next issue (which is often), I look through the Letters tag on my blog and read humbling emails such as this one to cheer me up. You guys are the best readership a magazine can wish for!

The realm of luxury

Posted on Nov 19 2014 in Snippets

In the same way that the automobile allowed the horse to become a creature of leisure rather than of labour, so too has digital publishing moved traditional publishing into the realm of luxury.

Love that analogy by Björn Rust. Part of the editor’s note in the lovely ScragEnd issue No1.

Name Your Price – a pricing experiment

Posted on Nov 10 2014 in News, Popular

After reading Robin Sloan’s fantastic piece about rethinking the idea of the static price tag, I came back from my holidays dying to experiment with flexible pricing myself.

From reading about other experiments I knew that giving people the choice to pay (next to) nothing usually attracts a lot of opportunists that care more about scoring a bargain than paying for something they really appreciate. So I was expecting the average price paid to be well below the standard price for a copy. And so, in order to decrease my chances of losing a lot of money in this exercise, I decided to set a few limits. Here is what the experiment looked like:

The Setup

I designed a simple page with a three-step checkout process:

In the first step, visitors could pick one of the available back issues. I intentionally didn’t make future issues available for pre-sale because, well, selling things I haven’t even produced yet for potentially less than cost price is a pretty dumb thing to do.

The second step offered a slider to define your own price — from $5 at the minimum to $38 at the max. With $5 as a minimum I could at least minimise the impact of a worst case scenario and have some of my shipping cost covered. I chose $38 as a maximum amount simply because it would put the handle of the slider right in the center at $22 (the regular price), which was also the default setting when opening the page.

Just below the slider I offered a bit of insight into how the chosen price affects Offscreen as a business. Here are the tiers and their message:

  • $5 – $7: Significant Loss
    If all copies sold at this price, Offscreen would generate a significant loss, killing the magazine instantly.

  • $8 – $10: Small Loss
    If all copies sold at this price, Offscreen would generate enough money to cover shipping, but would still struggle to pay for other expenses.

  • $11 – $13: Break-Even Point
    If all copies sold at this price, Offscreen would generate enough money to break even on expenses, but the publisher would essentially work for free full-time.

  • $14 – $20: Small Profit
    If all copies sold at this price, Offscreen would generate a small profit, enough to operate as a side project producing 1-2 issues per year.

  • $21 – $23: Sustainable Profit
    If all copies sold at this price, Offscreen would generate a sustainable profit, allowing the publisher to create at least 3 issues per year full-time.

  • $24 – $30: Profit for Growth
    If all copies sold at this price, Offscreen would generate enough profit to hire a part-time editor to increase quality and content for at least 4 issues per year.

  • $31 – $37: Profit for Expansion
    If all copies sold at this price, Offscreen would generate a enough profit to hire 1-2 people full-time to increase quality and frequency, and the brand could expand to events and other projects.

  • $38: Offscreen Venture Capital Inc acquires News Corp for immediate sunset.

Step three had a simple PAY NOW button with this message next to it: “To make this experiment fair and available to as many people as possible, we kindly ask you to order one issue at your custom price only.”

I also decided to limit the availability of this offer to 18 hours (with a countdown displayed on the page), largely for two reasons: once again to limit my chances of losing a lot of money, but also to create a sense of urgency and scarcity, one of the oldest tricks in the marketeer’s book.

The Result

I launched the experiment on a Wednesday night at midnight local time (Melbourne, Australia) when most people in Europe and America are awake or waking up soon. After a fairly restless night worrying that the experiment would somehow take off on social media and I’d become a victim of my own success, the counter stopped at a total of 71 sales the next day.

Here are the sales according to price paid:

Take-Away

First off all, my assumptions about people taking the opportunity to grab a bargain were validated. 21 people paid the minimum price ($5), compared to just one person sliding it all the way up to $38. (If you are reading this: you are awesome!)

Several people either disregarded or didn’t see my request to order one issue only. 6 customers went through the process several times and ordered all available issues at the lowest price (only shown as one order in the graph). I followed up with them and informed them that I had to cancel all but one of their orders and to my surprise their response was polite and apologetic, and a few of them even asked me to cancel these orders, but keep the money as a donation.

Several people that ordered their copy at the minimum price emailed me to tell me that they would love to give more, but can’t for personal/economic reasons. They explained that this was a unique chance for them to ‘test’ Offscreen. Unsurprisingly, many of these orders came from countries where the economy is not doing so well (e.g. Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Ukraine, Italy). And there was the occasional student in that group too.

The average price paid ends up being $12.40, which is just above my break-even point as stated below the slider. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Most sales congregated around the ‘break-even tier’ and I like to believe that knowing where it ‘doesn’t hurt me’ influenced customers’ decision. Though paying the ‘break-even’ price doesn’t make Offscreen sustainable, for the customer it’s a seemingly fair balance between scoring a bargain and not leaving the maker out of pocket.

Other than that, I don’t think there is much else to take away from this experiment. Considering that I offered back issues only, my existing and most loyal readership didn’t participate and hence didn’t get a chance to express how much they value Offscreen. I’m not sure exactly how many of these orders come from new vs. returning readers, but a few random checks showed that many of the customers in the lower pricing tiers are buying Offscreen for the first time (which is great).

Is such an experiment worth the effort? I believe so. There are a lot of variables that could be changed to see how it affects people’s decision to pay a higher or lower price. How did my messages/tiers influence their decision? Should I have made a future issue available for purchase and thereby encourage existing readers to have a say? Should I have run it for longer than 18 hours in order to have a bigger sampling group? How could I change the UI/UX to encourage a higher price?

Rather than making decisions about ‘the ideal price point’ based on one such experiment, I think you’d have to run several campaigns like this for it to be a reliable and realistic source for your pricing strategy. And of course, there will always be opportunists and poor students. ;-)

Dispatch
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