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MagCloud: The Future of Magazine Publishing? An interview with Derek Powazek

July 18, 2008


Remember the old saying, “the freedom of the press belongs to those who own the press!” Well, the folks at MagCloud want you, not only to own the press, but to write, edit and design your own press. A product of years of research at the HP Labs, MagCloud wants to “ease the pain” of magazine publishing and give the opportunity to everyone with an idea, any idea, to become a magazine publisher. MagCloud’s own take on things is as such,

“MagCloud is an HP Labs research project evaluating new web services that will provide small independent magazine publishers, online content owners, and small businesses the ability to custom publish digitized magazines and economically print and fulfill on demand.”

Derek Powazek, whom I first interviewed when he helped launch JPG magazine, serves as a consultant to HP Labs on this project. I have asked him few questions regarding MagCloud. After a brief intro, Derek answered my seven questions regarding this new venture that wants to make YOU a magazine publisher overnight…

He wrote, “Before I begin, I want to stress that MagCloud is a project by HP Labs, currently in beta, to which I am a consultant. It was not my idea – it’s been percolating for years within HP, actually – but it happened to dovetail wonderfully with my interests, and I came on board to help guide it forward. The core members of the team are Udi Chatow, Andy Fitzhugh, and Andrew Bolwell – all brilliant HP Labcoats. I can introduce you if you like. With that in mind, here are some thoughts….”


1. MagCloud promises to make magazine publishing as easy as
photocopying at Kinko’s. Is this the future of magazine publishing or
the return to old memo-graphed underground publications?

I’ve run a magazine out of Kinko’s. It’s not that easy!
My personal hope is that MagCloud kickstarts a new generation of zinesters, people raised on the ease of publishing on the web, but who still hunger for the beauty and permanence of print. The last creative explosion in zines was kicked off by copy machine. The next will be powered by print-on-demand coupled with the internet.

2. Do you view MagCloud as a publisher, printer or distributor?

If I had to pick one of the three, MagCloud would have to be a distributor, because we partner with printers, and our goal is to enable our members to become publishers themselves.
But, really, MagCloud is is a connector. We connect publishers to their audiences, printers with magazines, readers with magazines, etc. We see an enormous opportunity to breathe new life into the magazine biz, if only publishing was as easy and accessible as the web.

3. When would a magazine produced by MagCloud reach the status of a
real magazine (i.e. mass distributed magazine)?

We’ve got a pretty loose definition of what a magazine is. But, in general, if you print on paper, on a schedule, to subscribers, we think you’re a real magazine.

The whole idea of mass distribution comes out of embedded expectations about the economy of magazines. You can only make money in traditional magazines at scale, because it’s just not cost-effective to do small print runs. But that’s a technology problem – traditional offset printing is just too expensive to do in small batches. But what if it wasn’t?

If you look at the cost per page of printing, traditional offset printing is actually getting more expensive because of rising paper costs, but the cost per page of print-on-demand is getting cheaper/better/faster ever year. As price points merge, and it will cost just as much/little to print a single copy as a thousand. That change is happening now, and the industry is just beginning to notice.

4. After your experience with JPG and moving it from lulu.com to a
regularly published magazine, are you looking for an encore with the
titles coming through the pipe line at MagCloud?

Absolutely, only this time, we want to empower other people’s magazines. The math here is simple: If it was easier to make magazines, more people would do it. More magazines means more potential breakout hits. Too many great magazines don’t get made today because the business of printing and distribution is so hampered by inefficiency.

5. How do you view the future of magazine publishing and what is the
biggest challenge you think it is facing?

Young people are abandoning print magazines for the web – they have been for years. The way to bring them back is to put them in charge and see what they make. It’s easy for the pros to scoff at this idea, but remember that groups of amateurs have made some pretty amazing things online (insert inevitable Wikipedia reference here).

And remember, MagCloud is not just for the amateurs. The pros are bound by the same difficulties. Show me a dozen editors and I’ll show you a hundred magazine ideas that would exist if only it was a little easier. Not to mention all the content remixes and short-run editions professional publishers could put together on a system like MagCloud.

6. Will technology help print and add more printed products to the
marketplace or technology will replace print?

I think that we’re still figuring out what kind of stuff belongs in print, and what doesn’t. Remember that, for years, if you wanted to find out what the weather was like in a certain place, you bought a book. A Farmer’s Almanac. Putting that kind of variable data on paper seems crazy now, because we have a better way to do it.

So, yes, technology will drive some print products to their grave. Personally, I would not want to be running a traditional news weekly right now.

But I we both know that print is not dead. There’s content that really belongs in print. Look at the success of Make Magazine, photography journals, recipe books. We just need to figure out how print and web can stop competing and start collaborating.

7. What do you consider the single most important selling feature of MagCloud?

That someone who’s fanatically into a topic area could create a magazine, build an audience, and actually make money selling it, without ever having to stuff envelopes. Hasn’t that always been the dream of independent publishing?

So, magazine dreamers of the world there is no need to unite anymore for each and every one of you can have his own “cake” and eat it too… you are indeed on cloud nine with your ideas now, or should I say you are on MagCloud.

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10 comments

  1. Interesting stuff. I wrote a piece giving my perspective on the whole thing here:

    http://www.losowsky.com/magtastic/2008/the-wisdom-of-clouds/

    Will be watching with great interest how it turns out…


  2. [...] MagCloud: The Future of Magazine Publishing? An interview with Derek Powazek A chat I had with Mr. Magazine. (tags: magcloud publishing magazines) [...]


  3. Magcloud is something I have been following and hope to use in the near future. I think it’s a fantastic idea.


  4. [...] zijn nu zover gedaald dat dit een levensvatbaar businessmodel wordt, aldus een woordvoerder in een interview. MagCloud hoopt op een uitbarsting van creativiteit nu de drempel om een blad te maken zo laag is [...]


  5. [...] MagCloud is a service that lets anybody print and sell magazines. All you have to do is upload a PDF and they do the rest. When somebody wants to buy your magazine, MagCloud will print and mail it to them for you. For this service they charge you twenty cents per page. Whatever additional amount you charge for your magazine is yours. MagCloud is an HP Labs research project. As part of an SFEntrepreneur event next month, the lab in Palo Alto where MagCloud lives will open its doors for a tour of the facility and a presentation on the future of digital publishing. Register here.  Read an interview with project leader Derek Powazek. [...]


  6. Interesting interview, thanks.

    I signed up for MagCloud. Going to try it out. I blogged about MagCloud, here:

    http://jugad2.blogspot.com/2008/08/start-your-own-magazine-with-magcloud.html

    and here:

    http://jugad.livejournal.com/2008/08/02/

    (Its the same post at both the links – the first link is to a post on my newer blog, and the second link is to a post on my older blog).

    – Vasudev Ram


  7. [...] blogpost about at unwired.dk some while ago (in Danish). For more in-depth information about this, here’s a nice interview with Powazek sharing his thoughts on the [...]


  8. I have no patience for Derek Powazek. I find his information trite and outdated, his style grating and his presentations beyond dull. His only relevant skill seems to be a stint at a state college newspaper. FAIL.


  9. This was a really helpful post, please check out my blog at http://coasttocoastpublishing.blogspot.com and we can exchange ideas


  10. great stuff !



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