"The Magazine" For iPad: An Island Of Calm Amid A Roiling Sea Of Journalism

Another tech publication? And you have to pay for it? What is Marco Arment thinking? Today the Tumblr cofounder and Instapaper creator pushed out the inaugural issue of The Magazine, an iPad mag focusing loosely on technology. Launching a paid tablet magazine is gamble, but Arment has a fresh approach.

The Magazine is, above all, simple. It borrows the stripped-down simplicity of Instapaper to present articles in a no-frills, text-heavy layout rather than packing in the kind of slick, animated UI elements favored by Flipboard. This emphasis extends to the editorial approach. Each bi-weekly issue will have only four articles. That's something of a relief: I'm already flooded with articles via Twitter, Flipboard and Instapaper. For some readers, though, four articles might not justify a $4 monthly subscription fee. 

Speaking of the content, it's very good. This is billed as a tech publication, but it's not an avalanche of regurgitated news stories and longwinded gadget reviews. Instead, The Magazine focuses on thoughtful, well written essays about technology and topics that "appeal to people who love technology."  

In the first issue, there's an excellent story by Alex Payne that examines the revolutionary yet imperfect role technology plays in our lives framed by a series of personal traumas. Another essay deals with "weird schism between geeks who love sports and those who don't." It's thoughtful, interesting stuff that would feel more at home in The Atlantic than on Techcrunch

Introducing a paid iPad magazine is an especially bold move at this moment. Several weeks ago, the Huffington Post stopped charging a fee for its tablet magazine after lackluster sales. Part of the reason may have been that readers were already conditioned to expect free content from the HuffPo brand, and the company was accustomed to bringing in revenue from ads rather than subscriptions. Across the board, publishers have seen mixed results from tablet-based magazines. 

Will people pay $2 per issue for four really good articles? That seems like a gamble to me, but perhaps readers will perceive The Magazine's simplicity (amid a roiling sea of digital content) as a value worth paying for. If the project doesn't turn a profit after two months, Arment says, he'll kill it. 

The app isn't without its drawbacks. The fact that the content isn't free creates a necessary walled garden around it. That bugs proponents of the open, linked Web, but Arment does as good as job as he possibly can of making the content shareable across the usual social networks. Naturally, Instapaper is on the list of default sharing options. I wish I could save an entire article to Instapaper (rather than a snippet), but of course this would blow a hole in the paywall. 

The experience is pretty awesome overall. My biggest gripe is probably the name. The Magazine? Try running a search for that one in the App Store, even after the post-Chomp improvements in iOS 6. Good luck!

Personally, I'm willing to stick around for a few weeks to see where this goes. So far, I like what I see. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got an out-of-control Instapaper queue to catch up on.