Once Magazine isn't really a photography magazine - it's more a showcase for long-term photographic projects. Available as an app for the iPad, Once Magazine presents, each month, the work of three selected photographers. For each one, the magazine publishes around 20 images, with background information, interviews and audio files.
A few days after it launched in August, John Knight and Jackson Solway, respectively executive editor and CEO of Once Magazine, boarded a plane for Perpignan, France. Their goal was to meet with photographers, editors and agencies at the Visa Pour l'Image photojournalism festival. And most of these potential clients listened with interest, as the magazine's managers plan to share their revenues with the featured photographers - "after Apple takes its 30% cut, of course," says Knight. "We will cut photographers a check every six months for two years, depending on how their work sell."
The idea for Once Magazine came to Solway even before Apple had announced the release of its iPad. "There were rumours that such a tablet would be coming," he tells BJP. "I think people like storytelling. So we thought about doing stories on the iPad." With a couple of friends, Solway started working on the concept for Once Magazine, and that's when Knight came into the fold. "We knew each other from college," says Solway, and "he had moved to San Francisco and heard us talking about the magazine. He said: ‘I have to be part of this.'"
As with most new enterprises in California, Once Magazine was first built out of someone's bedroom - in this case, Solway's. Of course, now, the team has moved to new offices in San Francisco. "The great thing about being in this city is the enormous support network that exists there," says Solway. "Also, when people find out that we're not in New York, it opens-up the collective imagination of photographers. They think that we must be tech-savvy."
To develop the app, Knight, Solway and the team behind Once Magazine had different options. "We could have outsourced the development, tied ourselves to an app-building firm, build it ourselves or buy into an existing platform." In the end, they chose the latter. "We selected Woodwing, because it's great for what we wanted to do, and also because we didn't think we would have been able to handle the development of the app in addition to gathering all the editorial content."
Now, the creators have formed a team of editors, researchers and contributors to help sustain the app. "Each issue will have three stories," says Knight. "The idea was to keep it to three because that means we won't have to split the revenues between 20 people - we wanted the photographers to get a sizable return."
And, so far, the industry's reaction has been very positive, says Solway. "Photographers look at us as a possible new revenue stream. The only hesitation we've encountered came from agencies, which are concerned or unfamiliar with our business model. But in most cases, after lengthy discussions, they came around."
Of course, Once Magazine's first real test will come in early October when it releases its paid app. "A satisfying number of downloads would be 10,000," says Knight. "It would make enough money for it to be considered seriously by the industry. Of course, 15,000 to 20,000 downloads would be great." Already, a group of young photographers have embraced the initiative with Matt Eich, Munem Wasif, Anastasia Taylor-Lind and Guillaume Herbaut lined up to appear in upcoming issues of the app, which could be available via a subscription once Apple unveils its Newsstands platform.
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