July 30, 2014 Last Updated 9:53 am

Deca Stories, a TypeEngine app, delivers long form journalism without the tag of ‘magazine’

Collective of veteran magazine writers launches new publishing effort via website, new iOS app and Kindle Singles, offering individual articles as “issues” for purchase

The term ‘magazine’ gets tossed about far too often these days. Both First Look Media and Yahoo! say, for instance, that they are launching new digital magazines, and then when I see what they are launching I want to scream “that’s not a magazine!”

Merriam-Webster defines a magazine this way: “a type of thin book with a paper cover that contains stories, essays, pictures, etc., and that is usually published every week or month” – if you ask me, that simply doesn’t cut it. A type of thin book? With a paper cover?

I would prefer that the definition include the idea of a collection of articles, curated and edited by an editor or group of editors. One might add that there could be a consistent editorial focus, or that there are regularly appearing features or departments. I bet you could add a number of different elements to the definition.

Deca Stories, the new app from a group of independent writers, is definitely not a magazine, and Deca gets brownie points for not claiming it to be one in its app description, though it does use the word issues.

Deca-iPhone5-W-lgThe app, which uses the TypeEngine platform, is, instead, another way to deliver its individual stories, an extension of the website, something other than a magazine, but something that I am having a problem defining. When in doubt, I always fall back on the idea that it is a new format.

What both the app, and the new website does, is elegantly deliver the stories from the authors, in a simple, easy to read manner.

I’ve often complained that many journalists today, after successfully ridding their newspapers of sales people, were now after the production folks, too. The result, besides getting rid of most of the revenue, was to eliminate the element of design from their products. The result is a simple, readable, but dull digital product.

On the other hand, why can’t there be more ways to successfully deliver digital content to readers beyond websites? Does every media app have to look like Wired or Vanity Fair? Absolutely not.

In this way, the choice of using TypeEngine to deliver content, through a stand-alone app may be very appropriate. Deca Stories offers individual, long form articles for $2.99 a pop, with a subscription option that costs $14.99. The choice to avoid the Newsstand is understandable – both because the Apple Newsstand is a mess, and because magazines and newspapers are found there. Not surprisingly, the articles are also available as Kindle Singles, at the same price point as found in the new universal iOS app.

(The Deca Stories app description says “each issue”, implying something like a magazine, but never uses the word magazine – instead saying that what the reader will get involves individual stories, not collections of material.)

In the end, I did not feel the need to buy an “issue” to view the app, with the TypeEngine platform one knows what to expect – and the screenshots are unusually representative of the end result. (And besides, lots of people want me to look at their apps, but few send along promo codes, making it impossible for me to invest in every app that comes down the road.)

Deca is collective of journalists who have written for such magazines as Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, TIME, Science, Rolling Stone, GQ, National Geographic, etc. To launch their project they created a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising $15,000. That is a pretty small amount of start-up money, but the idea was not to raise money for a new print magazine or a new media company, but to be able to launch a website, create the app, etc.

The group of writers involved are Stephan Faris, McKenzie Funk, Vanessa M. Gezari, Marc Herman, Mara Hvistendahl, Tom Zoellner, Delphine Schrank, Sonia Faleiro and Donovan Hohn, with Hvistendahl writing Deca’s debut story. The app now features a second “issue” called Homeland, written by Stephan Faris.

What Deca can do for its authors is provide an editing and idea forum that is similar but more constructive than what a magazine can offer. With a magazine title, the editor may support the writer, but they looking for a certain look and feel to the content. Even with big name authors, the magazine editor is looking for how the article will fit with the rest of the issue. With Deca Stories, the article is the issue.

The concept has tremendous merit when looked at through the lens of the author. From the perspective of a publisher, I’ve always believed that depending on readers alone to support a newspaper or magazine was risky. But then again, Deca Stories is not a newspaper or magazine, right?

An Android version of Deca Stories is promised soon.

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