Backgrounder: TNM’s interview with then-CEO of Mag+ on the history of Bonnier’s tablet efforts
With the sad news of the shuttering of Popular Photography, TNM reposts an interview conducted in 2012 with one of those who was a major part of the tablet magazine revolution when he led the Bonnier Tech Group
Today’s Morning Brief talked about two news stories in the magazine business: the shuttering of Bonnier’s two photography magazines, and the continued rumor that Wenner may be selling Us Weekly.
The memo written to staff on late Monday announcing the shuttering of Popular Photography and American Photo might have, in the past, led to a number of publications making it a major story. But like the tree that falls in the forest, it made little noise – and I only picked up on it this morning myself when I found two online stories on photography websites.
For me, this feels like the death of an old friend, for a number of reasons. First, the magazines were part of the Tech Group at Bonnier. It was that group that was among the early advocates of tablet editions, what we would now call digital editions. Group Publisher Gregg Hano and Executive Editor Mike Haney worked with Bonnier R&D on the development of the digital publishing platform Mag+, and eventually left Bonnier to lead that company when it was spun off.
Tablet editions is the reason this site was launched in January 2010, and for many years remained the main focus of the website.
But, boy, times have changed. Neither Hano nor Haney are still with Mag+, or Bonnier, or even in the magazine business – be it print or digital. I haven’t heard from Mag+ or one of their representatives in at least a year or two, and Bonnier stopped using Mag+ for its Tech Group magazines in 2014, in what some might see now as the beginning of the end for those pioneering days of interactive magazines.
July 2014 was also the time when TNM was relaunched as a self-hosted website, with a new “news” design. Prior to that month, TNM was a Blogspot website, very much like the thousands of blogs out there. (If you want to see the old site it’s still live here.)
Because of this, I thought about some of those stories the “old TNM” had published, back in the early days of the iPad and of tablet editions. Because the tablet editions from such magazines as Popular Science and Popular Photography were such leaders in digital at that time, TNM wrote often about them, and those behind the apps. TNM interviewed Mike Haney at an ABM meeting in Chicago, for instance, when Haney was introducing publishers to the Mag+ digital publishing solution. (The ABM, as it turns out, is now gone, too.)
I interviewed Gregg Hano in early 2012 when he became CEO of Mag+. That interview, along with the Haney interview, were later rewritten to become the first chapter of Talking Digital, covering the earliest days of what looked to be a tablet, and tablet edition, revolution.
Because this story comes over from another website, hosted by Google, some of the formatting may be a little off, and the photos back then were hosted on a third party service, so they were far smaller than they should have been.
Nonetheless, you might find this an interesting backgrounder:
On Monday of last week it was announced that Gregg Hano, S.V.P. Corporate Sales & Technology Group at Bonnier, would become the new CEO of the digital publishing solutions company Mag+, replacing Staffan Ekholm, who will be returning to Sweden.
TNM caught up with Hano on Friday and discussed the history of the company he will now lead, as well as the issues that confront publishers moving into the tablet platform.
Hano holds a J degree from Ohio University. His LinkedIn profile shows that he worked for Hearst at Popular Mechanics until 2000 before becoming publisher of Popular Science in 2001 – at the time still owned by Time Inc. That title, and the rest of the Technology Group, were sold to Bonnier in 2007 and since then Hano has served as the head of that group until the decision to move to Mag+ as CEO.
It should be noted that six months ago I interviewed Mike Haney who had been executive editor at Popular Science and part of the Bonnier team that worked on the development of Mag+. He had left Bonnier to concentrate on promoting the digital publishing platform and in our talk he discussed the origins of the platform.
I felt now would be a good time to get Hano’s recollections of the early days of the Mag+ system.
In mid-2009 an article was in Popular Science’s “What’s New” section on the coming of tablets, and I remember seeing that. I went over to Mark Jannot, who is the editorial director of the Tech group, and I’m like “is this for real?” and he’s like “absolutely. No, this is coming, and we think it is coming pretty soon.”I said we needed to get our heads wrapped around what our content is going to look like on tablets.So we pulled a small group here – it was myself, Mark Jannot, Sam Syed, the creative director of the Tech group, Mike Haney and Jake Ward – and Haney obviously was with Tech and Jake still is – and we began to conceive what, and how, we would build a digital magazine.We at that time partnered with Zinio to develop three — our original goal was four – three magazines for screens. It was, of course, for laptops at the time. Two of them were not particularly good, I must admit.But the third one was called Greening Your Home Guide (The Green Home Guide), how to make your home environmentally friendly – and we put video in there, and links, and some service, and we got a sponsor, Eveready batteries sponsored it. We were really happy with that product.
So at a Bonnier conference, some time later, we shared that product, and as a result of sharing it with other international publishers we were connected with the Bonnier R&D team in Stockholm who had also been thinking about what to do in the space.
The woman who directs R&D, here is Sara Öhrvall. Sarah and the R&D team had been thinking about this. What they then went on to do was do an international competition between four different Bonnier groups – one magazine from Sweden, one from Denmark, ourselves here in New York, and then our TransWorld team out in Oceanside. We ended up winning that competition,s o ended up being the beta for Mag+.
At this point, the efforts of the team at Bonnier started to merge with the news that Apple would be launching its first tablet, the iPad. In December of 2010 a video hit YouTube from Bonnier R&D. That video, referred to as the Berg video, featured Jack Schultze from the British design firm that was working with Bonnier on design concepts for tablet editions.
I asked Hano about where things went from here – from beta, to the development of Mag+, to the first issue of Popular Science for the iPad.
So 2010 was pretty much a year of research. The SDK for the iPad 1 came out in December of 2009 for a launch on April 4, 2010.The Berg video came out around December.We set about that winter to building the platform, and working hard to get the April 2010 issue of Popular Science, the one with the windmill, on the tablet at launch. That was our rush, you know, our push.We worked with Berg. There were a lot flights between New York, Stockholm, London.
We were given one iPad that was chained to a radiator in Stockholm to work on. We had to sign all kinds of NDAs, and there were only three people who were allowed to see it, and all the rest of that sort of thing – which was kind of cool in its own little way.We did launch on time, and we got the April issue in, and we’ve been on schedule ever since – we’ve put out every single issue April 2010 on.
What happened during the later part of ’10 is that we started seeing single copy sales grow and we were excited about what we saw. It was during that period that not only we, but other Bonnier titles in Denmark, in Stockholm, and the TransWorld titles, went ahead and started putting some product on it.
We began to think that maybe there was a business here beyond just the publishing P&L, beyond the brands being able to put themselves on tablets, but that the Mag+ business could be a business of licensing software.
So Staffan (Ekholm) joined the organization as a project manager as this moved from the R&D stage to the productization stage, and I might have my dates slightly off, but I think it was in there late summer and fall of 2010. I remember being in Stockholm in October of 2010 and Staffan was on board, and we had migrated to code base then, from Berg to CCI, a Danish firm that writes code.
So it was also during that late summer, early autumn time period that it began to migrate to the beginnings of a company, and was then spun out of Bonnier January ’11.
But not all the magazines at Bonnier are using the Mag+ platform. Some are, instead, producing replica edition apps. I asked Hano about how the decision is made what platform to use for any given title.
Basically you have to prove that you have a business case because there is some incremental expense to developing more sophisticated apps.We are a publishing company that has some smaller publications, very vertical, where we are not 100 percent certain that the incremental work to make it (the tablet edition) an interactive app is the best route to take at this exact time. And then there are other brands that may migrate towards Mag+ soon.But what the decision has been on some of the other titles is to do replicas in what they call the Bonnier Reader, which is a different product. It’s a basic replica product, but it does have the research and metrics baked in, and you can sell it both through iTunes and directly through your website.So the direct answer is that it is really a conversation between the group publishers and the senior execs.And at this time our group, the Tech group, was the group that could prove the greatest business case (for using Mag+) and has gone ahead and executed against that and shown there truly is a business model here.
As for the Mag+ platform, I gave Hano a chance to sell me on it. Why use Mag+?
The thing that Mag+ offers is ease of use for the design team to migrate their files from InDesign into what we call the MIB files. It’s a very easy process to do for the design team. It gives us a lot of flexibility as far as what we can put in – whether it is video, web links. Creativity is something that is very much a part of the designer gets out of Mag+ itself.It is extremely flexible and efficient for the creative types to use both as far as the layers are concerned and as far as the ecosystem it is built around – which is clearly the InDesign ecosystem. So it was really created originally to support the creative process and give the designers the ability to bring to life whatever they want.On the business side, it’s an extremely transparent pricing solution. It’s very straight forward: $500 a month for the Grow! product. Fees are only charged when the publication is launched.So designers can play with Mag+ and see how to use it for as long as they want, but they don’t get charged until they put it up in the store.
Two years ago Hano talked to min’s Regina D’Alesio on the challenges of iPad publishing.
Two years on, what did he see as the big challenge to successful tablet editions?
The biggest challenges that we are faced with right now is probably one of making certain that advertisers can get their interactive creative on the different platforms in a way that is efficient for our agency partners.So you have multiple platforms currently in use: you have obviously got Adobe, many large publishers are using that, you’ve got Mag+, you’ve got many other competitors – you got now the Kindle Fire on the Android side.One of the big challenges is that advertising agencies would like to, and we would prefer, that they can create advertising once and run it across every platform. I think that the conventional wisdom is that HTML5 will help us get there, but currently that still remains a challenge, because we have to do some work on the advertiser’s ads, to enable them, and get them engaging for consumers, and, of course, that’s not the business that we want to be in, and we don’t think the agencies want us to be in either.
We want them to to do their creative, but right we just have to do that. That’s a challenge, and that’s a bit of expense that we are currently taking on, and something we’d love to see go away. in time I’m sure it will.Another one is metrics: delivering metrics to the agencies for the ads they are running in tablet editions. So they can both recommend to their clients that they use tablets, and after they do they can actually prove an ROI on that investment.I think what the MPA did two weeks ago in coming up with the voluntary metric guidelines was a great start in that area. We’ve been very open to sharing about sharing absolutely everything we can and that we have in that area…
Hano talked about the need for publishers to share data on their tablet publishing experiences in order to move the platform forward.
We then talked off the record, my recommendation, about tablet advertising pricing, metrics, etc. Later Hano let it be known that it was OK to reproduce the conversation but I’ve decided to leave that part of the conversation offline.
Finally, I asked Hano what he felt it would be like to be on the other side of the desk, selling publishers on Mag+ after 30 years of being on the publishing side himself.
I’m excited to be on the other side of the desk. I’ve spent 30 years in the ad sales/magazine publishing business and I’ve loved every minute of it. But what excites me and what attracted me to this role is moving completely into the digital space, helping to define the future of digital publishing, of if not define it, help be a beacon of light towards moving in the direction of migrating great content to the digital platform.Hopefully I have credibility in the space and will be able to share the experiences as a publisher on what it took to bring four different magazines to tablet publishing, to understand how you do it, advertising around it, the metrics, the consumer marketing, and now the renewal rates that we are beginning to see come in as Popular Science and Popular Photography renewals are beginning to come in.So I think being able to share that experience with my friends in the publishing side, hopefully will help our business grow, and will create a good dialogue as so many of them right now are still working through a solution that is best for them and their organizations.
Hano will be out representing Mag+ at several industry events in the coming weeks. He will be in London at the Worldwide Media Marketplace event where Mag+ will be an exhibitor. Hano will also be at MagNet, the Canadian magazine conference in Toronto in June.
In the meantime, Bonnier has announced that Steven Grune will take over as V.P., Group Publisher of the Technology Group. Grune joined Bonnier in 2010 after stops at Hearst and Meredith. Bonner said that Hano will remain an advisor to the company on the tablet platform.
First published on Talking New Media on April 23, 2012