Nomad Sees Content Oasis in Mag Desert

Is there a future for high-quality publications at a time when print advertising is disappearing?

That’s the question many in media are wrestling with these days, one that’s become more pressing with the recession and emergence of electronic reading devices. Mark Edmiston was pondering the same when he retired last year after a long career in magazine publishing (including a run as president/CEO of Newsweek) and media investment banking.

“I saw the decline of traditional media,” Edmiston explained. “The business model for newspapers and magazines is irrevocably broken.”

As anyone who’s ever paid $12 for an annual magazine subscription knows, though, flipping the model to a consumer-driven one isn’t easy, given the vast amount of free material already available.

Edmiston came up with what a model that he thinks will fly, though, and convinced friends and family to fork over $600,000 to get it off the ground. The result is a new company he’s announcing this week called Nomad Editions. He describes it as a marketplace for low-cost, high-quality special-interest weeklies that are designed for tablets and smartphones.

Edmiston is the CEO, and his team includes magazine designer Roger Black and IAB co-founder Jock Spivy. There’s also a board of advisors, with well-known media names including Jack Kliger, former CEO of Hachette Filipacchi Media; and Eric Schrier, past president/CEO of Reader’s Digest Association.

In seeking mainly consumer revenue, Nomad borrows from other publications, like the subscription-driven Cook’s Illustrated. But it will work like a cooperative, with Nomad handling the back-office functions and about one-third of the revenue going to pay the writers and editors.

While many Web sites (you know who they are) subside on aggregation or free labor, Edmiston sees Nomad as providing a sustainable source of work for journalists. “We wanted to create something where people who create good content could actually share in the money that is generated by their work,” he said.

Nomad is expected to roll out Oct. 15 with four titles at first, including Wave Lines, for surfing enthusiasts; and Real Eats, about sustainable food. (Having a business that doesn’t depend on ad dollars means editors need not be concerned with advertiser appeal, Nomad’s backers point out. “Instead of making editors figure out what advertisers want, you make editors figure out what readers want,” said Black.)

Over a year’s time, Edmiston aims to grow the number of publications to 20 with a combined subscription base of 200,000. “This is a sustainable model for media in the future,” he said. “It doesn’t require advertising to be successful.”

If it sounds too good to be true, Edmiston realizes that spreading the word about Nomad and getting people to try it out will be tough for a virtually unknown media product whose promotional strategy consists mainly of its supporters’ own Facebook and Twitter activity.

In a sense, then, Nomad will be like any other startup where the basic question is, he said, “whether or not anyone will buy these magazines.”

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