Olivier Laurent, associate editor of the British Journal of Photography and editor of FLTR
Last week, Apptitude Media, publishers of the British Journal of Photography (BJP) announced the launch of a digital magazine focused solely on mobile photography. Not only that, the magazine itself is initially being sold as an iPhone-only app.
The new magazine, called FLTR and published weekly, launched on Monday last week (16 December). Following the launch, we sent over some questions to Olivier Laurent, editor of FLTR and also associate editor of the BJP, to find out more about the new app and the process behind-the-scenes.
Laurent stressed that the intention is not for the magazine to continue as iPhone-only long-term.
"Right from the start we've been aiming to offer our content to both iPhone and Android users," he said. "However, the Android market is so fragmented at the moment that it's really difficult to offer the right experience to these users," he explained.
But, he added, "that doesn't mean that FLTR won't appear on Android".
"On the contrary, we're actively planning to offer the magazine on that OS in the first half of 2014, but I can't guarantee it will be optimised for all Android handsets. Instead, I envision FLTR for Samsung's Galaxy phones and any other predominant phone models."
With the magazine now in the Apple Store, we asked Laurent about what his vision was for the app, and how the team went about designing it and building a content strategy which would appeal to a mobile reader.
Below is a copy of our questions and Laurent's answers, received via email.
What experience do you want FLTR to offer the reader?
FLTR shares the same ethos as BJP. We aim to offer the same type of analysis of the market and chronicle what is happening in this space. And these changes are considerable. Mobile photography is really revolutionising the way we perceive and use photography and FLTR's aim is to explain these changes.Mobile photography is really revolutionising the way we perceive and use photography and FLTR's aim is to explain these changesOlivier Laurent, FLTR
The website will offer a live stream of daily news, but the magazine (within the app) is really about putting these changes into context.
How did the idea for the magazine come about?
The idea for FLTR first came about 18 months ago, but it really became reality three months ago. After six years on BJP as the news and online editor, it became apparent that photography was in the midst of massive changes. Suddenly, brands such as Apple and Samsung took centre-stage and an increasing number of photographers were experimenting with their smartphone.
Meanwhile, the general public was abandoning compact cameras en masse in favour of smartphones. It just made sense to chronicle these changes, which I believe are revolutionising the entire field more than any technology has done in 150 years.
What process is involved in building an iPhone magazine from scratch? How long did it take?
With BJP, we've been able to adapt the print model to the iPad and the iPhone, offering the best experience possible to fit the device and the way people use it. The iPad, for example, is used most predominantly at home for longer period of time, while the iPhone is used on the go, often during transit. So, for BJP, we put the focus on long-form features with extra content (pictures and videos).
For FLTR, we wanted to offer a satisfying amount of content without overwhelming the readers with too much. In the end, we're a weekly, and we didn't want to end up with users opting out of FLTR because they couldn't catch up with the amount of content. So, each weekly issue has between four and six articles, offering a couple of hours of reading experience and photographic inspiration. Of course, in the future we might bump up the number of articles depending on our readers' feedback.
How did you go about deciding on the design – and how does it appeal to the iPhone in particular?
FLTR is a weekly publication and we wanted the reading experience to be as 'comfortable' as possible. There's no point in designing a magazine where the user has to zoom in, for example, to read the content. Similarly, we wanted to offer the right amount of content that wouldn't overwhelm our readers while also providing enough for a weekly read.The goal was to give centre-stage to the text and the images, while introducing the magazine's own personality - especially through the use of a palette of particular coloursOlivier Laurent, FLTR
From that, our designer Mick Moore, who has been responsible for BJP's award winning print redesign in 2010 and critically acclaimed iPad app in 2011, went on to design FLTR. The goal was to give centre-stage to the text and the images, while introducing the magazine's own personality – especially through the use of a palette of particular colours. Of course, we were heavily influenced by Apple's iOS 7 graphics and made sure to stay faithful to that new visual identity.
How have you approached content in a way that particularly works on iPhone?
Content will always come first at Apptitude Media, which publishes both BJP and FLTR. At the same time, as I said before, we wanted to offer the right type and amount of content to our readers – that means limiting the number of articles to a maximum of six (you also have to take into account that Apple will only allow issues under 50MB to be downloaded over 3G) but you also want to offer enough each week.
The goal is also to offer as much visual content as possible. We wanted the experience to be as pleasant as possible, so a lot of thought went into the way images are displayed, as well as which typography we're using across the magazine, for example.
Do you not worry you're limiting the potential audience by starting with iPhone only?
I'm not sure worry is the right word. In an ideal world we would be available from start on every platform in existence, but that's just not possible. We're purposely discriminating against Android and Windows Phone users, but when you have to design for hundred of Android devices and when you consider that Windows Phone doesn't allow magazines to offer subscriptions offers, you have to admit that these operating environments are just not mature enough for an app such as FLTR. Even the BBC wasn't able to offer an Android version of its most popular apps at launch, so it's difficult to expect us to do so either.
That being said, we are committed to offering an Android version in the first half of 2014, but we will never market it as such. Instead, you'll probably see us promoting as "FLTR, designed for Samsung Galaxy" or whatever phone has the biggest market share at that time. We want to make sure that, once FLTR is available on these phones, the experience is on-par to what you get on the iPhone. We don't want to compromise on quality just for the sake of reaching a larger audience.
How did you decide on the payment model?
In the mid-90s, when the web started to become commonplace, we, as publishers, made the mistake of offering our content for free. We're not going to make that mistake again. A lot of work has gone into producing FLTR's content, and offering it for free just doesn't make sense.The era of free content is coming to an end, it's just unsustainable and is leading our society towards superficial and ephemeral news content that adds nothing to our understanding of our society.Olivier Laurent
Quality content has value, and that's why we decided to make FLTR a paid-for app. At the same time, we believe in our content, and we believe that once our readers have tried a few of our issues, they will want to stay informed and pay for our content, that's why we're offering a five-week free trial to anyone that subscribes to FLTR. And if they cancel their subscription within these five weeks, they won't be charged one pence.
But the era of free content is coming to an end. It's just unsustainable and is leading our society towards superficial and ephemeral news content that adds nothing to our understanding of our society.
What lessons from editing BJP have you taken into this project?
BJP has been a journal of record for 160 years now, and at no point have we compromised our editorial integrity in exchange for extra ad revenues, for example. We believe that we have a role to play in chronicling and putting into context the changes our industry is facing, and FLTR continues that tradition – in a different segment of the market though. That means that we will always look to provide the best analysis of the latest trends while offering informative case studies on the medium.
Where have you looked for inspiration in terms of mobile-first journalism?
I don't think mobile-first journalism exists as an independent entity. Journalism is journalism, the medium just doesn't matter. Our goal is to offer a series of independently researched articles that will enlighten our readers and push them to experience with photography. We would apply the same dedication whether FLTR was published in print, on the iPad or the iPhone.
Of course, I can only be in awe of titles such as The Loop, The Magazine, or more recently, Offline, which offer amazing reading experiences on the iPhone. These publications are truly inspiring and I recommend everyone to try them out.
How/when will you measure the success of the magazine?
We're in this for the long term because we believe photography is in the early stages of a revolution. FLTR's goal is to chronicle these changes, and we wouldn't be launching it now if we didn't believe in its potential – no matter how long it takes to establish its presence. Yet, after just four days, the first numbers we've received from Apple comfort us in the belief that FLTR will become a predominant voice in an ever-changing photographic market.