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Pop-Up Magazine Comes to LA

Ace Hotel Marquee
(Photo credit: Leo Jung.)

Earlier this month (Thursday 11/13/14), Pop-Up Magazine, the live-events arm of California Sunday, returned to San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall for the first time since Song Reader, the music-themed special issue created in collaboration with Beck and McSweeney’s in May 2013. According to Deborah Vankin, an LA Times reporter:

The scene was a beautiful, chaotic mess, a mashup of live music, animation and rollicking storytelling for about 2,600 people filling Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. So ravenous was the crowd for Pop-Up Magazine’s particular brand of storytelling — original magazine-style nonfiction, told aloud and through still photography, recorded interviews and short films, with many pieces accompanied by live “soundtracks” — that the Nov. 13 event had sold out online in about 15 minutes.

Pop-Up Magazine after-party

Afterward, the crowd streamed into the lobby rotunda for what some described as a deafening party that went on for hours. The bars were packed with gregarious guests savoring and retelling the stories they had heard….

Her review also highlights a handful of stories from prior live “issues” of Pop-Up Magazine:

At a 2009 show, shortly before he died, photographer Larry Sultan narrated images from a photo album he’d found 30 years earlier at a flea market, retelling the life story of a young man who shipped off to war. At another show, “Toy Story 3″ director Lee Unkrich used film clips to give a behind-the-scenes look at how he sound-edited a single line of dialogue in the movie. Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Sam Green has shown a narrative short about fog in San Francisco, accompanied by live music. Author Michael Pollan and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker have read nonfiction stories. Pop-Up has even had “special issues,” like an all-music show in 2013, a collaboration with Beck and novelist Dave Eggers’ publishing company, McSweeney’s, that featured live music and stories about music.

Last week (Wednesday 11/19/14) Pop-Up Magazine performed its first event for Los Angeles fans, at the United Artists Theatre at the Ace Hotel. Table of Contents here. The stories themselves aren’t recorded or republished online, but writer Jessica Langlois retells a few of her favorite shorts and features from the LA show here.

Pop-Up Magazine Table of Contents

Sponsors included MailChimp, Google Play, Nest, and Converse. Like the stories themselves, sponsor messages are delivered from the stage. In between editorial stories, with the word “Advertisement” projected above the stage in big letters, short sponsored vignettes are performed as branded entertainment in miniature.

Nest Gallery at Pop-Up Magazine
A Nest-sponsored gallery installation at the after-party features art pieces commissioned by Nest for “story ads” in The California Sunday Magazine.


The after-party featured a soundtrack curated by Google Play, with songs prompted by the most recent film in the “California Inspires Me” series, a collaboration between Google Play and the California Sunday story ad studio.

Pop-Up Magazine: Dinner 9/24/14

Last week my colleagues put together Dinner, a special food edition of Pop-Up Magazine: Sixteen food-themed stories served up alongside a meal created by chef and food writer Samin Nosrat. Some artifacts from the evening.

Pop-Up Magazine Dinner menu
A pop-up menu for Pop-Up Magazine.

Tucker Nichols napkin
Napkins by Tucker Nichols that suggest topics for conversation.

Wendy MacNaughton infographic water glass
Water glass infographic by Wendy MacNaughton to illustrate the California draught.

Memory cookies from Pop-Up Magazine
Sixteen small cookies, each built around an ingredient featured in one of the evening’s stories — from subtle (water) to unusual (charcoal and smoke) to daring (chicken fat).

Here Comes California Sunday

The California Sunday Magazine

Today we announced the launch of The California Sunday Magazine. We’ll debut on October 5 on the web, for iPhone and iPad, on Android and Kindle devices, and also in print — delivered with select Sunday copies of the LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Sacramento Bee. Each month we’ll publish thoughtful, reported features and beautiful photography and illustrations set in California, the West, Asia, and Latin America, for a national audience. You can sign up now for read-everywhere membership here.

The new title will publish alongside Pop-Up Magazine, the live magazine. With Pop-Up Magazine for nights and The California Sunday Magazine for weekends, we’re focused on making media for your leisure time.

Here are some initial reactions:

“For everyone out there who’s a fan of Pop-Up Magazine’s superb live storytelling, but wishes the team behind it would give you something to read at your leisure, check this out.”
The Bold Italic

“That means California Sunday Magazine will debut on the Web, across a range of devices (Apple iPhone, Google Android, Amazon Kindle), as well as a print insert to 400,000 selected readers of the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee.”
Re/Code

“Filled with stories and photography focused on California culture from all its myriad micro-universes.”
Boing Boing

“What makes the print magazine scalable from the start is a deal that the company has struck with the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Sacramento Bee…. [The] new company will continue to produce [Pop-Up Magazine shows] as well as what it considers weekend reading: meaty narrative storytelling.”
Fast Company

“A new weekly magazine called California Sunday was announced this morning, and reaction was immediate and joyous. The very creative business idea is to put the print mag inside the state’s biggest Sunday papers, while having all the websites and apps that are exciting to new-media people but can’t charge Sunday paper ad rates.”
Gawker (from earlier in the year)

“The print title forms the core of a new media company born of a partnership of new and old media professionals: former Digg.com and Federated Media exec Chas Edwards and Douglas McGray, a magazine writer for titles like Wired and the New Yorker and impresario of a live series of Bay Area events, Pop Up Magazine.”
International Business Times

“The monthly, print-side [of California Sunday's] business model is most intriguing. Not only does it give them instant traction at both the advertiser and circulation-base ends. But if successful, it could prove to be a model of revenue for other grouped regional newspapers.”
Mediabistro

“That’s not the only asset the team is bringing to bear. California Sunday also has a successful event strategy — it’s folding McGray’s popular Pop-Up Magazine series into the company as well. And it has built a studio to help brands execute content marketing inside the magazine’s pages. Oh, and it has some of the best talent in the state, from Michael Pollan to Farhad Manjoo, as contributors.”
John Battelle’s Searchblog

“McGray and Edwards’ impressive editorial team includes: creative director Leo Jung, formerly the design director at Wired and deputy art director at the New York Times Magazine, and photography director Jacqueline Bates, previously the senior photo editor of W magazine. She also worked in the photo departments of ELLE, Interview, and Wired.”
Society of Publication Designers

“The California Sunday Magazine, a new general-interest monthly that’s launching in print, online and on phones and tablets in early October, is taking content marketing to a new place: the stage.”
Digiday

“Helmed by S.F.’s Douglas McGray (editor and co-creator of Pop-Up Magazine and contributor to This American Life and The New Yorker), California Sunday is about gorgeous photography and evocative longform reporting on the stories that make our fair state the beautiful beast she is. And they’ve got the chops to pull it off, with behind-the-scenes talent from Wired, the New York Times, W Magazine and Digg alongside Cali’s deep bench of proven storytellers and visual artists.”
Inside Hook

Postcard From Pop-Up Magazine

Pop-Up Magazine Program

I had so much fun at Pop-Up Magazine on Thursday night.

The Kitchen Sisters introduced us to “bone records” from Soviet Russia. When vinyl was hard to come by, creative music fans figured out how to groove pirated American and European pop songs into recycled X-ray film. I especially like this one: Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel stamped over an image of someone’s actual heart and ribcage.

Bone Record of Elvis Presley Heartbreak Hotel

Jon Mooallem profiled the longest-burning incandescent lightbulb, at the fire station in Livermore, California. It celebrated its 100th birthday in 2001, and it’s still glowing 24/7. You can see it in action live on the Internet, but they don’t make webcams like they used to make lightbulbs — they’ve had to replace the webcam twice.

Livermore Fire Station Lightbulb

Driving from San Francisco to Providence, RI, in the summer of 1990, I listened to the audiobook for Moby Dick. It was unabridged, 21 cassette tapes of uninterrupted classic lit, and the longest audiobook offered by the bookstore I rented it from. I thought I was pretty badass until Aaron Loeb told the story of the guy in a Somali prison who “read” Anna Karenina, all 349,168 words of it, to his fellow prisoners in a Morse-code-like system of knocks on the wall of his cell. It took something like seven years for the novel to make its way down the line to the rest of the inmates.

I loved all 65 minutes of Sam Green’s live documentary, The Measure of All Things, especially when Bao Xishun, the world’s second tallest man, saved a choking dolphin and, in the process, found love.

Bao Xishun Saves Dolphin

Caroline Paul told an incredible story about her attempt, as a teenager, to break the distance record for crawling on all fours…. Oh, forget it. I’m not even going to talk about it; you kinda had to be there.

(Disclosure: In addition to being a Pop-Up Magazine fanboy, I work for its publisher, California Sunday. My role in Thursday night, though, was basically sitting around admiring the hard work of Pat Walters, Leo Jung, Lauren Smith, Derek Fagerstrom, Evan Ratliff, Doug McGray, and the enormously talented storytellers they brought to the stage. Special thanks to our wonderful sponsors, MailChimp and Lexus.)

Stanford’s Future of Media 2014: Stats and Sources

Earlier today I did a talk at Stanford’s Future of Media conference. The infographic notes version looks like this, courtesy of Nick deWild:

Inforgraphic notes by Nick deWild

Here are links to sources for the stats and quotes I cited:

MIT’s Ethan Zuckerman proposes that we measure media attention in units called Kardashians.

NBC’s Jeff Zucker says “we are trading analog dollars for digital dimes.” (More recently he’s upgraded dimes to quarters.)

Google’s Hal Varian on news readership habits by platform is published here and here.

We bought 457 million eBooks in 2012.

Barack Obama is a binge-watcher.

Buzzfeed readers who read that 6000-word article on Detroit real-estate on their phones spent, on average, 25 minutes doing so.

You can read the rest of Caitlin Flanagan’s feature, The Dark Power of Fraternities, here. And Amy Chua’s story, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, here.

Estimates that House of Cards has between two and five million viewers come from here.

People who read the Sunday paper spend, on average, 57 minutes.

Which Format Is Best for Premium Publishing?

I gave a very short presentation today at sfBIG‘s The Big Minute on the topic of reading habits across devices and settings. (If it takes you longer than 80 seconds to read this post, you read slower than I talk!)

The California Sunday Magazine

1 minute
Time we spend reading a newspaper’s website, which we tend to do at work on a laptop.

5 minutes
Time we spend, on average, reading a Buzzfeed list, which we also do mostly at work.

25 minutes
Time spent reading that 6000-word Buzzfeed story about Detroit, if we were among the people who read the story on a phone.

27 minutes
Time we spend reading the newspaper, if we get the print version and read it over breakfast.

57 minutes
Time we spend reading the Sunday print newspaper, since — presumably — breakfast on Sunday lasts longer.

115 minutes
Time we spent tuned-in to the last live issue of Pop-Up Magazine, an evening of “performance journalism” that takes place periodically at Davies Symphony Hall on a week-night after work.

So then, I asked, which publishing form-factor is best if the goal is to maximize reading minutes? Is it the Web, smartphones, printed magazines, or maybe live events performed onstage? How about stone tablets??

Actually: Format doesn’t really matter. The relevant factor, it turns out, is where we do our reading. You’ll get the best results, as a publisher, if you reach a reader outside of work — away from the distractions of email, IM, meetings and, well, work. People engage much more deeply with media when they’re at the breakfast table before work, or at night or during the weekend. If you can reach a person during those windows of leisure time, he or she will give you a whole lot more attention.

(Sources: 1, 27 and 57 come from here; 5 and 25 from here; and 115 from the official time-keeper at Pop-Up Magazine.)

Please Give Me Reason To Pay Attention

It was shocking news to some members of the over-25 crowd to learn that users of SnapChat, the self-destructing photo-sharing app, enjoy the app for purposes other than sexting.

Shocking it may be, but the evidence is mounting. It appears that many SnapChatters often use the service just to send silly pictures to friends without fear that they will be added to the sender’s permanent digital records. Makes perfect sense to me — mullets were practically part of the uniform for my suburban New Jersey high school soccer team in 1987, and I’m sure glad photos from that era aren’t littering my Facebook Timeline.


(From Survata blog.)

But that’s not really what interests me most about SnapChat. Faithful readers: You know I have a one-track mind, and SnapChat has me thinking about online advertising — specifically the sorry state of online ad rates.

In 2008 Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC at the time, made famous a line about “broadcast dollars” becoming “digital pennies,” a quip that captures the phenomenon by which advertisers pay a fraction of traditional-media CPMs for the website version of the same content. A few years later Google chief economist Hal Varian wrote a post that touched on similar issues and their relationship to the newspaper business. In 2010, when he wrote it, he observed that while the Internet has been a boon to news consumption — more people read news, and more of us do so everyday — there’s one aspect of our news-reading that’s gone very much in the wrong direction: The amount of attention we pay to news when we read it online. We spend only 70 seconds per day reading news online; back when we got our news in a paper format, it was 25 minutes per day.

If we’re only fractionally engaged with online content, then, it’s logical that advertisers value online ads at pennies on the dollar.

Part of the explanation for our digital distractedness is the wealth — overabundance?! — of content choices online. But the more significant explanation, I think, is that digital content is inevitably archived and easily searchable. We graze and skim through content now because we know we can go back later, when we will have more time to actually pay attention. Tag it #longreads, push it to Instapaper, or leave open another tab in your browser. Then you can go back later and give it a really thorough read.

I don’t know about you, but I was always much better at pushing stories to Instapaper than I was at actually reading them later. And then I stopped using it altogether.

SnapChat doesn’t have this problem. According to Yale computer scientist (and former FourSquare software engineer) Sean Haufler:

Snapchat’s time limits make snaps more engaging…. since every message has a time limit, users are present when opening snaps. Snapchat attracts its users’ full attention since they have only a few seconds to capture the details of each message. This engagement makes the experience more satisfying — it feels like a real conversation.

Kind of like live sports or other major TV events, or a magazine story that everyone’s talking about right now. (Or a feature in a live magazine.) What’s the point in watching on your DVR when you know who wins or that Matthew Crawford has already met his untimely death something really big happened last week on Downton Abbey? If you care about that game or that show or the cultural conversation that references them, you need to watch it live and pay attention when you do. That’s programming that demands our engagement, and thus it’s highly valued by advertisers.

Advertisers certainly aren’t going to pay more because your private exchange is more programmatic than your competitor’s. But they almost certainly will if you can find a way — through rich, unique and timely content — to capture reader attention for more than a few seconds every time the engage with your digital product.