Magazines2.0 – does print-on-demand spell doom for the news-stand?

Paul Raven @ 06-04-2009

magazines at the news-standIt’s no secret that a big part of the problem for science fiction magazines – and many other sorts of periodical publication – are the cost and logistical issues attached to printing and distributing the final product. You can buy the best fiction on the planet, hire the best columnists and artists… but if you can’t get that final product into the customer’s hands (or at least in front of their eyeballs), you’re going to struggle to sell copies. [image by Diane S Murphy]

Enter Hewlett Packard, who describe their new MagCloud service as “YouTube for magazines”. MagCloud has similarities to LuLu.com as well; basically, you upload your finished magazine as a PDF file, which MagCloud then lists in its catalogue for no charge. When a customer wants a copy, they log in, pay the cost… and get a printed version made especially for them.

Arch-fan (and Clarkesworld non-fiction editor) Cheryl Morgan can see a route ahead:

Where I do think that there is a potential business case is with small press magazines. The sales pitch would go something like this: yes, you can read it for free on the web; yes, you can download a PDF and print it yourself, but if you really want something glossy and physical then order it from MagCloud.

I’ll go one step further – there are server-side software engines that can be used to stitch together PDFs from HTML files, so you could allow your reader to custom-build a magazine to their own specifications from your stock of stories and articles, and then buy a unique printed version. If nothing else, it would mean you could avoid paying for a magazine which contained a story by an author whose work you just don’t enjoy.

Of course, as TechDirt points out MagCloud’s potential success is predicated on the assumption that interest in magazines among people tech-savvy enough to be aware of the service will continue for long enough for the business to grow (and, more importantly, for the currently prohibitive unit costs to fall)… and while I’m convinced that dead-tree books will last for a good few decades yet, I’m not so sure that the magazine format will have the same longevity.

What do you think? Would you be interested in a print version of sites like Futurismic – a story or two a month, a couple of essays and a sprinkling of blog posts selected from your favourite tags and search terms – or is the webzine at its best in its native non-physical environment?