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Can Print and Online Content Just Get Along? California Sunday Magazine Hopes So.

"This is not some irrational romantic attachment to print."


In a few weeks, at the beginning of October, a new content effort called California Sunday Magazine will debut aimed at publishing, “thoughtful, reported features and beautiful photography and illustrations set in California, the West, Asia, and Latin America, for a national audience,” of a demographic of 25- to 45-year-olds.

Starting a general-interest publication, offline or online, is not for the faint of heart, although the effort has attracted several million dollars in investment from a range of angel funders.

Which is why it is also going to try to pretend to its readers — largely urban and definitely hipper — that there is absolutely no divide between online and offline, using a design that was aimed at both equally. 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.

It’s certainly more of an interesting gambit since the effort has its roots in an event series called Pop-Up Magazine. In the hugely popular live show in San Francisco, reported stories are performed by their creators — including high-profile authors like Michael Pollan and Alice Walker.

“If you build for one or the other medium, you always seem to end up with two different things, but we wanted to actually think about kinds of stories that work everywhere,” said editor-in-chief Doug McGray about California Sunday Magazine.

He and his team first sketched out the look of the product in digital and then did the print version based on those rules. “We treat paper like another responsive screen profile,” he said.

McGray — who had previously been a well-known freelance writer for big publications like the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker, as well as a contributor to the twee-but-impressive radio show “This American Life” — has attracted a high-profile group of editors to help. That includes design lead Leo Jung, who worked at Wired and the New York Times Magazine; editors like writer Peggy Orenstein; Kit Rachlis, the former editor in chief of Los Angeles Magazine and LA Weekly; and the Atlantic’s Nicole Allan. All of the writing contributors will be freelance for now.

McGray said that all the content they create is aimed for “leisure” time — nights for the Pop-Up Magazine event and weekends for California Sunday Magazine — and wherever the reader wants to access it. Perhaps most of all, the governing principle is that push-pull between offline and online is unnecessary.

“The whole point is there should not be tension between print and digital,” he said. “I am an enthusiast [of digital], actually. I read a ton on my phone and wanted to think about producing content with that in mind.”

Still, McGray said there is a business case for offline content done well. “This is not some irrational romantic attachment to print,” he said.

Of course, there is that business part, run by former Federated Media and Digg exec Chas Edwards, with a studio that works with marketers to create “story advertising,” which seems to be pretty ads. Launch sponsors for California Sunday Magazine will include Google Play, Lexus, Converse and Ace Hotel.

Along with revenue from print ads, there will also be a digital subscription offering to give consumers access to special gifts and entry to the events, which quickly sell out. Events are also a big revenue stream and will expand.

“In a lot of ways we are lucky to be starting our company now, because we have a pretty lean business and have pretty modest revenue expectations,” said Edwards. “That way we can adjust the cost structure and try to identify the sources of income as they emerge.”

As to the “story advertising,” Edwards correctly noted that this is just par for the course going forward in publishing, although that does not mean the ads need to be boring.

“We are doing one series of story advertising with Nest that feels like a gallery exhibit with prominent illustrators and artists and what home means to them,” he said. “But we are also making sure we are very transparent.”

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