My (Re)generation: Paste's Nick Purdy on the Fall and Rise of a Music Magazine
When Paste Magazine announced it was folding its print edition in September 2010, most probably assumed they had seen the last of the acclaimed music journal, which had enjoyed healthy growth from its founding in 2002 until the economic downturn gutted its advertiser base. Instead, a savior appeared in the form of archival live music, video and memorabilia purveyor Wolfgang's Vault, which bought the assets of Paste Media Group in January 2011 and immediately set about helping Paste plan a relaunch—this time, as a digital only multimedia publication.
The new Paste, launched in beta in June and set to roll out this month as a subscription product (at 99 cents per issue or $36 annually), is delivered via its "mPlayer," a unique Web-based interface delivering downloadable music, reviews and feature articles to a subscriber's Inbox 48 times a year. At launch, Paste said the mPlayer "opens doors for the integration of visual and audio content and reader/social interaction in ways that were impossible through print." We asked Publisher Nick Purdy to explain how the new Paste will deliver on this promise.
Inbox: What does Paste provide the music fan that other channels cannot?
Nick Purdy: A developed point of view, combined with excellent curation across multiple media forms, all delivered in one elegant package. Our tagline, Signs of Life in Music, Film & Culture, has guided us since we launched the magazine in 2002 and continues to this day. Our readers trust us to help them discover new music, to write about it in an intelligent way and to give them a chance to experience that music. In the past we did that with a sampler CD. Now we simply pair streaming (and downloadable) music and exclusive video with features and reviews.
Inbox: The mPlayer seems to be the heart of the magazine (the main way readers engage) rather than an extra selling point (like promotional singles or CDs inserted in magazines in days of yore).
Purdy: The mPlayer IS Paste magazine. Or, to be more precise, mPlayer is the delivery mechanism for the same Paste which was delivered via paper 63 times over eight years. When we announced the mPlayer, we actually referred to the "return of Paste magazine." Some might quibble and say the magazine is only the printed version, but the magazine, to us, is the content. We've been agnostic about delivery mechanisms for a long time now. The mPlayer was developed to answer the question: "How would we create Paste from scratch using current technology and taking into account our audience's preferences?" Starting from scratch is why mPlayer doesn't resemble any other digital magazines. What's in it, though, is what matters. Thoughtful editorial content combined with incredible audio and video.
Inbox: Why did you choose this approach, and why do you think it has proved so successful?
Purdy: We started down this road when print became unsustainable for us. The mPlayer however, allows us to fulfill our original vision in a way print never could. We want our readers to experience the pop culture we tell them about, and now they can, especially with the inclusion of video. People are loving mPlayer because it's intuitive, attractive, simple, and fun. Some of the visual metaphors are familiar—the media player is reminiscent of iTunes and the table of contents looks like a bunch of app icons from a smartphone. But the whole package works together seamlessly, and introduces some new ideas that seem to make sense to people, like the option to link what you are reading with what you are hearing.
Inbox: What does Paste tell us about how to launch a successful magazine amid today's incessant media noise?
Purdy: I'm not 100% sure we know the answer to that yet. I can say that the most important thing we've done in the past decade is to develop a brand that people trust. The Paste brand means something to a lot of people and by remaining faithful to that, it gives us the opportunity to evolve. Every feature (or delivery mechanism) will eventually be copied if it's any good, so the mPlayer itself isn't the right place to hang our hat. We continue to challenge ourselves to surprise and delight a readership who trusts us to be their guide to discovering and sharing the best that pop culture has to offer. So in short, to stand out in the current media culture, you have to stand for something, and you better deliver.
Inbox: When will your subscription plan launch, and how will it work?
Purdy: Our subscription model launches in September. The pricing is simple: $2.99/month, which gets you an average of 4 issues per month (48 per year). That means at least 28 free high-quality MP3 downloads per month are included, which is a lot of great music on top of the magazine itself. We will sell single issues for 99 cents and to make these smaller transactions as frictionless as possible, we are employing Amazon's payment system. Our assumption is that nearly 100% of our readership already has an Amazon account. Plus, they've made it financially feasible to accept credit cards for transactions under $10, which is very helpful. The pricing model is a shift from print's common annual pricing to a more Web-friendly monthly subscription price.
Inbox: Any plans for advertising/sponsorships?
Purdy: Definitely. There's no advertising in mPlayer yet and we haven't even finalized a plan for how to do it. The top priority is making sure that the product is fantastic and that people love it. Advertising will likely be a single weekly sponsor integrated lightly and elegantly into the mPlayer. We're actually looking forward to talking with advertisers about how to do this in creative ways. The amount of time people are spending each visit (nearly 12 minutes) is amazing for a Web-based publication and so we expect that the mPlayer environment will be extremely attractive to brands wondering how to maintain the engagement that makes print so special with the cost effectiveness available on the web.
Inbox: How will you avoid some of the online subscription pitfalls that have befallen other publishers? Does it help that audiences are already accustomed to paying for music online?
Purdy: Everyone is learning together on this. We cheer every time someone charges for content on the Web. It's critical to pay attention to what is working, like building in free sampling and social sharing. Anyone can enjoy two free Paste articles every week in the mPlayer and share it via standard social media tools (by the way, nearly all the content in the mPlayer is exclusive there and is not repeated on PasteMagazine.com, except in teaser form). We need our readers to be evangelists and history shows they will be.
Being sensitive on pricing is critical and so we've mapped our pricing to be attractive in the current environment. I think it's less that audiences are used to paying for music (we aren't selling music—it's free with the magazine) and more that it's becoming clear to consumers that paying for good content is the only real long-term solution. Nobody really loves noisy ad-driven websites and that business model only rarely supports award-winning-quality editorial. We surveyed our readers before mPlayer came out, and 88% would pay for good digital content. This is a good sign and it's up to us to deliver a compelling package.
Inbox: What's the timeline for a mobile edition or app?
Purdy: Our iOS app releases later this year and then Android after that, likely in early 2012. The Web-based version, being HTML-5 based, works a lot like an app, but we're really excited about the potential for our native apps, both in usability, but also in reaching a huge audience with something really great.