By Harry McCracken | Monday, July 19, 2010 at 3:53 am
Back in 2008, HP Labs launched MagCloud, a print-on-demand service designed to let anyone publish a magazine without much in the way of cost, resources, or risk. Today it’s launching some new features which let publishers use MagCloud for more ambitious creations–and distribute their works in both paper and iPad form.
MagCloud is aimed at amateurs and small-press types, as well as big brands–such as LIFE magazine–which want to produce special issues or bring old ones back into print. (LIFE offers a replica of its 1969 Woodstock issue.) It does for magazines what Lulu.com does for books: make it feasible to print and sell attractive color publications in quantities as small as one copy. Publishers upload their magazines in PDF form; whenever someone orders an issue, HP has one of a number of independent fulfillment centers print it using a high-speed HP Indigo printer, then ship it to the customer.
MagCloud only does magazines in one size: 8.25″ by 10.75″. And until now, they could only include up to 64 pages. But now the limit has been bumped way, way up–to 384 perfect-bound pages. Publications can now be sold internationally. And HP is also releasing an iPad app that will let MagCloud publishers distribute iPad versions of their publications. The iPad version is optional, and for now there’s no mechanism for the publisher to charge for it, so all available magazines will be freebies–HP told me it’ll add e-commerce features eventually.
As before, publishers pay HP a production charge (20 cents per page for single orders) for printed magazines they sell through MagCloud, and get to determine the selling price by tacking on a set amount of profit above and beyond their costs. LIFE, for instance, charges $4.95 (plus shipping) for a 24-page magazine featuring photos of Princess Diana.
Even though MagCloud publications can now be pretty darn hefty, the fee structure will still encourage relative brevity: One copy of a 384-page magazine would cost $76.80 before any profit margin was factored in. MagCloud does have a multiple-copy discount, but as with Lulu, anyone who knows they can sell a publication in sizable quantities can pay far less by ordering in bulk quantities from a traditional printer.
And MagCloud creations might be better described as magazine-format publications than true periodicals. HP doesn’t let you sell subscriptions through its site (although it’s possible to manage subscriptions yourself and use MagCloud for fulfillment). And the process involves waiting up to two weeks for a proof to arrive for your approval before you can begin selling your publication, which might be a problem if your magazine has any truly time-sensitive contents.
Still, I think MagCloud is a cool idea. I sure would have gone gaga for it a couple of decades ago, when I helped produce a small-press magazine called Animato. Our press run was so small that were were doomed at the time to marginal production values, including no color on the inside. And even though I’m very happy plying my trade on the Web, it’s fun to toy with the idea of at least one issue of Technologizer in dead-tree form…