Interview: Ex-Newsweek President Edmiston Launching Seven New iPad Mags

Nomad Editions, established to devise new magazines for tablet subscriptions, has seven or eight more titles in the pipeline, says CEO Mark Edmiston, a former Newsweek president.

Since its free iOS carousel app went live on May 11, it has sold “thousands” of subscriptions to its five weekly titlesBodySmart (weight loss), Real Eats (food), U+Me (social networking), Uncorked (wine) and Wide Screen (movies) – each of which is a new launch and costs $9.99 per year or $0.99 per month.

“What surprised me is, we’re getting almost 50 percent of people taking the year,” Edmiston told paidContent, explaining about 10 percent of free app downloaders convert to subscribe.

Nomad is trying to prove that tablets can be platforms for new as well as existing brands. Rather than convert existing titles to tablet, it taps journalists to devise new titles along with it, with an interesting new model – for pay, each editor takes five percent of subscription income, whilst writers split 30 percent between them.

“We look for editors but they look for us too,” says Edmiston, who also co-founded the JEGI media investment advisory. “The analogy is closer to a movie studio than to a trade publishing company.” Three of Nomad’s current five titles were conceived not by Nomad itself but by budding new editors. Nomad will shortly add Sustainable Money (business), Good Dog (pets), a spirituality title and one for collectors of 1960s muscle cars.

For Edmiston, the opportunity so far is all about iPad. But Nomad magazines may end up on other platforms – each is actually a HTML5 site, which just happens to be encased in an iOS application. Editors even handle production, using an automated workflow inside software called TreeSaver. “We’re bottom-up rather than top-down,” he says. “We have copy editors so we do impose discipline on the process, but we try not to impose on the choice of stories.”

Revenue split within the Nomad family includes Apple’s 30 percent, of course, but Edmiston doesn’t mind. “When we built our very first plan, we assumed we’d be Apple-only. Our business plan assumed all our subscriptions will be sold in Apple’s store with 30 percent to Apple.” He disagrees with the tactic recently adopted by publishers like Time Inc. (NYSE: TWX) who are allowing existing print subscribers iPad access but forgoing the opportunity to sign new subscribers in-app.

“Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) performs a real service,” Edmiston says. “Magazine publishers have always paid commission to someone. More than half of subscriptions come through an agent. We can communicate with our subscribers through Apple at any time anyway – through push notifications.”

Edmiston hopes Nomad will be profitable within two years and is drawing on funds from a committed investor in tranches. Right now, magazines contain no ads. Nomad hired an advertising director in January, but Edmiston says: “The agencies have really not figured out mobile. Most agencies ask, ‘How many page views do you have?’

“We say, ‘We want you to look at this as 25- or 30-minute engagement’. People are engaged for a long period of time. From an advertising standpoint, this should be a good thing.”

So what is Edmiston’s view the progress of Newsweek, which he left 25 years ago, a few months under new ownership? “It’s too soon to tell. The basic problem of news weekies is that you really don’t need them – you have to create a need for them, and Tina (Brown) is trying to do that. The jury is out on whether that’s possible or not.

“The competition for Newsweek is much less the internet and more newspapers. The New York Times has turned in to a daily news magazine, USA Today started that in the 80s. That’s been exacerbated by the web.

“When Newsweek was for sale for so long, everyone got disrupted and the ad community said, ‘Let’s wait and see’, so a lot of the ad selling didn’t get done in late 2010.”

In the future, “most people will get their magazine experience from over the web”.