The Atlantic's Jay Lauf on Why Brave Thinkers Are Pioneering Print-On-Demand
"It is how we define, editorially, what we do—and have done for more than 150 years," says Jay Lauf, publisher of The Atlantic. This year that creed was embodied by a November issue spotlighting today's bravest thinkers in business and technology, politics, science and health, culture, and business and economics. However, that issue was accompanied by a custom collection of the bravest articles from the magazine's history, available exclusively throughHP's MagCloud print-on-demand (POD) service.
The Atlantic was founded a century and a half ago by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and several of the time's other great minds. It was meant to be a forum for progressive thinking in a day when the country was still finding itself. Since then, the magazine may have printed more groundbreaking and iconic thought than any other American publication, from arguing for women's literacy in 1859 to espousing information theories in 1945 that would eventually become the Internet.
The Atlantic Brave Thinkers: A Retrospective special edition packages six of those iconic articles in one 60-page special edition that customers can order from MagCloud for $6.00 plus shipping. Below, Lauf explains why they chose POD for this edition, which may turn out to be an iconic experiment in its own right.
INBOX: What's the idea behind the brave thinkers issue? What makes that interesting now?
JAY LAUF: Our editors decided to dedicate an issue [of The Atlantic monthly print magazine] to highlighting people who have exhibited brave thinking in their fields over the past year. The custom edition with MagCloud expands on that idea to provide our readers with additional material from our rich archives and to experiment with innovative new technologies as a way of delivering that content.
What makes this interesting now is that the volume celebrates brave thinking through examples that span nearly a hundred years of American history on topics that have sculpted our nation—such as war, education, technology and race. These issues have not diminished in importance over the years; arguably they’re more central to American thought right now than they have been in quite a while, which makes this volume particularly timely.
INBOX: Why is this issue being released via MagCloud instead of as a normal newsstand or subscriber print issue?
LAUF: As noted above, we have always sought out interesting and innovative new delivery mechanisms. In this case, it helped us provide additional content that was on-theme and likely interesting to core Atlantic readers while separate and apart from the regular issue.
INBOX: Is the brave thinking issue something you would envision today doing without print-on-demand technology?
LAUF: I think anything we consider doing editorially we consider executing in a number of ways, but this particular project really lent itself to experimenting with POD.
INBOX: What about the project lent itself well to POD?
LAUF: This was extra content that would appeal to devoted fans of The Atlantic, people who understand and appreciate our heritage. It was content that otherwise would not have been in the pages of the regular issue, therefore an on-demand model seemed worth exploring.
INBOX: What metrics are you using to determine whether or not it's successful? How does that compare to the goals for an issue that is being printed traditionally?
LAUF: Those metrics are fluid and varied ranging from the number of copies ordered to reader feedback on those copies to the production quality of the product delivered. These are all variations on the same metrics we’d use with a regular issue, though the overall scale is obviously smaller. We’re happy with it so far.
INBOX: Why work exclusively with MagCloud?
LAUF: HP is a premier innovator, so their technology is among the most advanced in this arena, which extends to both the quality of the final printed versions and the ease with which we could use their platform. HP’s reputation and capabilities bring a level of trust that our brand will be well-presented.
INBOX: Do you feel that advertisers are willing to follow magazines into POD yet? Do you have a sense of what factors may be impacting their interest?
LAUF: It’s a little too early to tell and I think scale needs to develop, but there’s no question that our core advertisers are interested in any approach that helps them target a very engaged audience. Content that is “on-demand” by definition requires high engagement—it's special-ordered and therefore almost guaranteed to be read, and likely re-read, by the recipient.
INBOX: At this point, do you expect to publish additional special issues as on-demand titles in the future?
LAUF: I think that we will in some form, but there are no specific plans in the pipeline.