How magazines get started (continued)

How magazines get started (continued): Today’s SF Chronicle has a classic HMGSC story about the previously blogged magazine, Edutopia, a new title published by the George Lucas Education Foundation.


The idea started last year, according to Milton Chen, the foundation’s executive director, when Lucas, while gazing at the bountiful magazine racks at a Borders Books store, groaned about the titles devoted to dogs, cars, gardening and crocheting. “He wondered, ‘Why isn’t there a magazine about education?’ ” Chen said. “He said, ‘Let’s come up with a plan.'”…The magazine will operate as a business like other nonprofit magazines that are self-supporting, such as Smithsonian, National Geographic and San Francisco’s Mother Jones. The first issue of Edutopia is filled with ads from educational technology firms such as LeapFrog, Adobe, Serious Magic and Gateway, and also features ads from the likes of TiVo and Air New Zealand.

Good luck to all involved, but here are my observations regarding the venture:

1. I think creating a magazine to evangelize the use of technology in education is a wonderful, noble and commendable idea and one that George Lucas is uniquely positioned to accomplish, but, the notion that this magazine can be “self-supporting” (if that means “profitable”) is highly suspect. Frankly, it’s setting up the wrong measurement to judge success. Nor, if history is a guide, will it likely occur. Again, the magazine is a wonderful idea and the editorial and philosophical missions are outstanding, but the business model is flawed and likely doomed.

2. Are Mother Jones and Smithsonian magazines “self supporting” through subscription and advertising revenue? And, if so, how many years (decades?) did it take them to get there? And if they are, I can give you tens of thousands of examples of foundation and non-profit institutional magazines (i.e., every university alumni magazine) that serve vital, successful roles but are not “self supporting” in the way Edutopia is challenged by Lucas to be, according to the article.

3. George Lucas should give John Grisham a call and talk about this whole “self-supporting” magazine concept. If Grisham’s market power and considerable cash could not succeed in helping Oxford American find self-support at a time when it was a perennial National Magazine Award nominee and winner (and in my opinion, one of the most outstanding magazines published in America), I don’t think even “the Force” can make Edutopia “self-supporting” in a financial way.

4. George Lucas is among the most creatively brilliant people living today (or, perhaps ever), but he should give the magazine another challenge, something like, “change the world,” rather than “be self-supporting.” Frankly, changing the world will be an easier goal to attain for a magazine intended for an audience of over-worked, under-paid individuals who have no direct purchasing power for the merchandise advertised or access to an expense account to pay for a subscription.

5. I still think the magazine’s concept and purpose are wonderful, noble and commendable and feel certain it can be successful, just not self-supporting.