FLYP’s James Gaines Offers Old Media A New Way Of Thinking About Online Content

Gaines_Jim_color_cropped.jpgNow it’s time for something completely different.

In the current era of searching for “what’s next” for the media industry, James Gaines, a former managing editor at People, Time and Life magazines thinks he has found the answer in FLYP Media, an online, interactive publication that combines old fashioned journalism with video, audio, animation and all number of treats for the senses.

“This is where all story telling is going,” Gaines, who is FLYP’s editor-in-chief, told FishbowlNY recently. “We’re making the optimal user experience. You don’t just read the stories, you experience them.”

FLYP’s tagline, “more than a magazine,” says it all. Published since March 2008, FLYP has produced 35 issues, which are posted online and emailed to 20,000 subscribers. The publication is privately funded by Mexican multi-millionaire Alfonso Romo, so there is no advertising and subscribers get it for free. The magazine’s business model may change in the future, but right now Gaines has no plans to charge for its content.

Like other digital magazines, or the digital versions print magazines love to publish on their Web sites, FLYP does utilize virtual page turning. However, there is so much going on each page — from interactive videos to charts and displays to animation — you quickly realize that FLYP is unlike any other magazine you have ever experienced.

This screenshot does not do FLYP justice

On his personal blog, Gaines compares the current state of the media industry to a car crash. In the midst of a crash, can you think of anything else besides the inevitable?

Instead of plowing ahead with the old media models, Gaines suggests taking a different tack; leaving the car and the crash behind and stepping into the unknown.

What is the unknown? Gaines has put his faith in FLYP, a small operation — about 12 people work there — that requires a team of people to create each story. “Every story starts with a great idea,” Gaines said. “The idea is brought to a team, someone who does video, someone who does audio, animation, photography, a programmer, a reporter. You kind of develop ways of dealing with each type of idea.”

“At Time, I was at the top of the pyramid,” Gaines continued. “This is incredibly flat. You have to get used to being a normal person…It works really well but you can’t go from traditional media to this without taking a breath.”

For Gaines, that breath was writing books and consulting for media companies like Condé Nast and American Express. After 11 years on the outside of the industry looking in, Gaines saw the future at FLYP. He joined the company 14 months ago.

“This is what I would have done with Life magazine,” Gaines said. “Why don’t they see it? It’s frustrating to see my friends in print struggling.”

Gaines thinks there is blindness on the business side of media companies. The industry keeps waiting for advertising money to return so the traditional business model will become profitable again, but Gaines pointed out that there isn’t time to waste sitting around waiting. “I think people will pay for what they want, and it’s not a crime to give people what they want,” he said.

Gaines’ FLYP is itself still figuring out what it is and what it can be. Although it’s creating its own content, it’s also providing added value for traditional magazines. FLYP has already worked with Fortune more than once, as well as Entertainment Weekly and other non-traditional outlets like ProPublica and Warner Music. Gaines also sees the potential in the burgeoning online textbook market and hopes to one day bring FLYP’s entrancing visual creations to financial documents like annual reports.

But for now, Gaines is keeping FLYP his priority, producing a new issue basically every two weeks. He says he works with other publications and companies when they come to him, but he doesn’t seek them out. “”We don’t want to be a production house,” he said. “We want to be a publisher.”

However, Gaines wants to help out faltering publications and show them the light. On his Twitter feed, he frequently laments any news of magazine closures and offers advice and help to struggling pubs.

Gaines’ dream for the future of magazine publishing seems simple enough: “I’d like some major magazine publisher, instead of becoming infamous for starting a doomed title now, to become famous for starting the first digital title.”

Gaines seems to have a good relationship with Time Inc. Maybe they will be the first to try out this new technology with an entire title of their own. The magazine publishing industry, and the media world, is waiting.

Check out more of FLYP here.