Vis à Vis Wants to be Forever Free

April 16, 2012 • Digital News • by

*Article courtesy of the European Journalism Centre

In a small office in the centre of Madrid, a team of seven young entrepreneurial journalists are working overtime to produce the next issue of the digital magazine Vis à Vis.

Conceived exclusively for the iPad and launched in January 2012, Vis à Vis is an interactive, visual publication that wants to reinvent journalism.

The first edition of the magazine recorded up to 42,000 downloads. The third edition was released on 1 April and the team’s expectations are very high.“Journalism is going through a phase in which either you undertake your own idea or you have to conform to the reality of market,” explains Laura Blanco, the magazine’s editor in chief.

Together with Ángel Anaya, she holds the reins of this initiative that forged its roots during their first year at university. The seven editorial staff members are between 23 and 25 years old and studied together in the Spanish city of Valencia. After working on a project involving the editing of a print magazine, they decided to launch their own publication… online.

“With the emergence of digital platforms, the entire printed press industry started wobbling,” Laura says.

When the iPad appeared on the market, she and her colleagues realised that it would be a suitable support for a lifestyle magazine, because it could combine quality content with interactive features.

“In August [2011] we reached Madrid with much uncertainty, but with a lot of hope and enthusiasm,” says Ángel in an emotional tone. He confesses that the magazine is “his creation” and passionately narrates the gestation process of the idea. In the beginning, the group of friends had to rely on family support to fund their project. When they asked for a small bank loan, they were told that they were “too young to take that risk.”

“Free Forever”

Compared to other magazines for iPad, Vis à Vis’ specificity is that it is exclusively edited for this support, with all the possibilities that it offers and the distinctive feature of being free of charge. “Free forever” reads its motto.

“Nowadays, it is very difficult to ask people to pay for something they know they can have for free,” Ángel says. That is why he bet fully for the digital environment from the start. “In addition we had observed over the years that tablet readers’ profiles were moving from executives with high purchasing power to young readers.”

The magazine’s content consists of interviews with prominent figures in the arenas of sports, television, fashion or gastronomy, presented in a personal “vis à vis” (face to face) setting. “We try to create a special atmosphere with each character. Interviews are always done in a kind of ‘petit comité’,” explains Laura.

Vis à Vis runs on a basic concept: all content types must be able to be consumed at different times of the day. “From extensive articles that you can read calmly at home during the weekend, up to short and more visual articles that you can rapidly go through on the bus or on the underground, that’s what Vis à Vis is all about: a magazine that escapes the ephemeral concept of the paper,” Laura adds.

The editorial team relies fundamentally on the power of social networks for its advertising strategy. “Word of mouth worked very fast,” says Ángel. The first issue of the magazine launched on 4 January and recorded about 42,000 downloads. In February the second issue had already reached approximately 38,000 readers within two weeks.

By the time of the third edition, the team has already secured the first advertisements that will finance the project. “Brands are seeing a great advertising potential in the interactivity offered by the iPad,” says Ángel. “They are contacting us directly!”

Reinventing journalism

Thanks to their enthusiasm, Ángel and his colleagues have gradually overcome, step by step, the challenges posed by a society very anchored in the printed press medium. Some people have praised the magazine as a great initiative promoting journalism, while others have shown more scepticism with regards to a long-term development of the project.

Other times though, some people have become so excited with the project that they have offered help of all kinds.

“It is a risky venture to undertake a business in times of crisis. But if you don’t do it, you will never be able to aspire to anything better,” says Laura.

While she and her colleagues do not see that their magazine’s only for iPad design as a restriction, they do not reject the possibility of producing future versions of the magazine for other supports. “We are covering a market in full expansion,” Ángel says.

The figures seem to prove it: Last February Apple registered 25.000 million downloads from its App Store and the recent launch of the iPad 3 or New iPad has beaten records worldwide with more than 3 million sales in the first four day.

In a media world in full change, Vis à Vis relies on two crucial elements for its success: the enthusiasm in reinventing a distribution model and the obstinate belief in the possibility of a new way of doing journalism.

Original article written by Gina Gulberti and published by the European Journalism Centre April 10, 2012.

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