New pay-what-you-want mag shows appetite for longform journalism

Case study by Alex Klaushofer.

This week sees the dropping onto doormats of Issue One of The Blizzard – a quality, quarterly football magazine offered to readers on a pay-what-you-like basis.

The digital edition of the magazine came out on Thursday in a launch timed to come ahead of the Champions League Final at the weekend. Founded by sports writers disenchanted with the superficial, sensationalist coverage of football, the digital-print publication showcases long-form articles on the beautiful game, and is aimed at ‘the thinking fan’.

According to editor and co-owner Jonathan Wilson, the initial plan was to publish a print-only magazine. But the idea of producing a PDF version for advertising purposes morphed into a combined digital and print publication for which subscribers would pay what they thought it was worth, either on a regular or one-off basis.

Issue Zero, launched in March this year, went unexpectedly into profit, selling almost 8000 downloads. ‘I tweeted once. We had no advertising at all,’ says a surprised-sounding Wilson.

But anyone getting carried away with the idea that a single tweet can launch a thousand mags would do well to reflect on the constituents of The Blizzard’s success. As football correspondent for the Guardian, Wilson has over 17,000 followers on Twitter, all of whom make up the target market for a magazine on the sport.

The collective of contributors who writes for the Blizzard form a stellar cast of sports journalists, bringing names with brand-recognition to a niche-readership.

Nonetheless, The Blizzard’s early success demonstrates that, if get the product and readership right, there is categorically an appetite for in-depth journalism. The print edition of the magazine – described by Wilson as ‘almost Victorian’ in its presentation – is unashamedly text-centric, and features articles up to 13,000 words long.

‘The idea of The Blizzard isn’t that you would skim through it on the bus, but that you sit down and read it with a cup of coffee or glass of wine,’ says Wilson. ‘It occupies that middle ground between a magazine and a book.’

‘Would people be prepared to read that much on screen?’ he adds rhetorically. ‘It appears that they are, which came as a slight surprise to me.’

With sales already ahead of the curve the owners had initially envisaged – they anticipated making nothing in Year One – the future of the magazine looks sustainable. It may even turn out to be fairly right-on in the way it treats its writers, as it has pledged to pay everyone a share of the profits.

‘At the moment nobody’s making a fortune,’ says Wilson. ‘But in the long term we’ll hopefully be paying above the market rate, and at least not too far below.’