July 26, 2013 Last Updated 7:21 am

Nomad Editions takes its hard knocks and evolves

From original content creator to custom publisher, digital publishing start-up Nomad Editions learns along the way

Three years ago one of the more interesting start-ups announced was Nomad Editions, the digital magazine start-up launched by Mark M. Edmiston. Edmiston had been the President/CEO of Newsweek, before helping found the M&A firm The Jordan, Edmiston Group. He left that company to join AdMedia Partners before retiring from there in 2009.

nomad_logo_web_finalIn 2010 came a big announcement and an article in The New York Times: Nomad Editions would launch original content digital magazines using its own platform, Treesaver. The editors who would launch these new titles would get a revenue share of the subscriptions sold.

But, as Edmiston told me last week, the idea that led to the formation of Nomad Editions went back one year earlier to a conversation he had with his eventual partner Marjorie W. Martay.

“My partner, who is still my partner, knew a guy at Condé Nast who had been pretty much laid off from a full time position to a contributing editor – and he was looking for ways to make some money, and had an idea and wasn’t sure what to do with it. And so my partner, Marjorie asked me if I would talk to him, and so we did, we both talked to him.”

The idea, similar to be model used by Andrew Sullivan, was to launch a blog site that would require a paid subscription. But though Edmiston liked the idea, the more they thought it through the less they thought the business would be scalable. Enter Roger Black, the famed designer.

“So Marjorie and I went off and began to think about starting our company,” Edmiston said. “We officially formed the company in 2010 and worked with Roger Black who had an idea that I hadn’t even thought about. I was thinking of doing apps, he was saying ‘you really need HTML5, and I got this brilliant guy who used to be a Microsoft engineer and he can do it.'”

RealEats-Nomad-lgSo after the August 2010 launch announcement, Nomad began interviewing potential editors. Eventually a few were identified and in December the new company could announce the release of the first two digital magazines. Several others quickly followed, but things were changing fast – the iPad had been launched in 2010, as well, and the Treesaver solution, which used responsive design to render the magazines for the desktop, mobile phones and tablets, was less than ideal in every environment (though it did work).

According to Edmiston “it was not as successful as I would have liked because it was pretty clunky and the engineer got hired as the CTO at Flipboard, so my key guy was gone!”

Roger Black would eventually move to Hong Kong, where “print is still robust.”

Eventually Nomad Edition began to use the Mag+ platform to build individual branded apps, but the level of paying subscribers did not reach the level necessary for success, which Edmiston thought was 10,000.

“They didn’t come close. They were in the low thousands,” Edmiston said.

“Basically what we found, this really started in the beginning of 2012, a year and a half ago it was becoming very, very clear the only way you could succeed was if Apple promoted you. We had one edition that they mentioned us for a day and we got 17,000 order. These were free trials. Without their mentioning it we were getting hundreds.”

In September AdWeek reported that Nomad Edition would be shuttering its three remaining titles. The news got a lot of attention, far more that the November press release that announced that Nomad would be launching a content marketing initiative.

Today Nomad Editions still very much in business, but now is working with other companies to create digital media products.

“What we have learned is that we have to go some place where there is a bunch of customers already. You can’t find them through the current digital world. You have to go some place where they have already identified themselves,” Edmiston told TNM.

“We’re approaching different organizations – not just custom publishing kinds of things, where we might launch a partnership and create some publications of them.”

“We’re talking to organizations that have existing databases of customers, and are in the process negotiating with three of them and hopefully one of the three will come through. We would be back into the publishing in the consumer market, but again with a partner and with a brand that people will recognize.”

For many publishers, including Nomad Editions, the issue of app discoverability was an important factor in its performance. With an established brand, whether that brand is a magazine title or a consumer product, customers will need to be able to find your new app. One leading app designer told me recently that he is starting to call into question the whole idea that one should create a publication app solely with a sales revenue motive – better that it serve a marketing objective in case sales disappoint.

Nomad Edition may well get back into the original content publishing game, but for now the company that launched in August of 2010 resembles a customer publishing firm more than it does a magazine publishing house.

The entire interview with Mark M. Edmiston will appear soon in a different digital format along with interviews with other publishing executives. Stay tuned for more news on that front.

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