Yes, Bob. There is innovation in print: A micro magazine called Abe’s Penny

May 20, 2009

Innovation in print is well, alive and kicking. Abe’s Penny: A micro magazine created by Anna and Tess Knoebel, is the latest of such innovation. Each volume of Abe’s Penny “contains four postcards that subscribers receive one by one, once per week, for one month. Each postcard features an image and a few lines of text. The full set of four postcards is a full story.”

This new magazine caught my attention and provided a nice answer to my friend Bob Sacks who spoke earlier in the week in Colorado and defined the word magazine as anything but ink on paper. So, Bob, read my interview with Anna Knoebel and, please, come down from you high horse and discover the beauties (and money making) advantages of ink on paper. (By the way Bob, can you name ten magazines with no ink on paper editions that are making any considerable amount of money? I can name hundreds if not thousands of ink on paper magazines that are making a lot of money, even in this depressed economy).

Well, enough of Bob and plenty of Anna and her Abe’s Penny. I asked Anna:

SH: What was the idea behind Abe’s Penny?

AK: Why does anyone start a magazine? The idea definitely didn’t start with, “Let’s figure out a way to sell advertising.” We were looking for a way to communicate. Abe’s Penny starts a conversation. First, between the artist and the writer, then between the result of their work and the person who reads it.

SH: In this age of digital and digital social networks, what do you
expect to achieve with Abe’s Penny and how do you propose to do that?

AK: Our current aim is simple: to pursue the dialogue. Of course, any print publication competes with online, but we’ve received such positive feedback. People still want tangible things. Another really positive result of starting Abe’s Penny has been discovering communities of people working to preserve letter writing / mail art: Postcrossing, The Letter Writers Alliance, PodPost, etc.

SH: Is there future for print or you are just “yet another crazy print lover”?

AK: We don’t consider ourselves fanatical about print. It’s more about recognizing a common desire to share experiences, and then providing space — in our case a postcard — where those experiences can be shared. It’s nothing new. It doesn’t matter whether you find it online, in something you hold, in people you meet, but it matters that you find it. Is there a future for print? Books have been around since something like 2400 BC. Seems like print will last.


  1. Innovation indeed:


    • Thanks Andrew…read your article in WSJ… well done. Will keep you posted on the Magazine Innovation Center.

  2. My good friend Samir:

    You are unfortunately very misinformed.

    What I described in Boulder was paginated media.
    Unless something happened while I was out of town, in- on-paper is still paginated media. Tony Silber completely missed the point, and you have exacerbated the problem of bad reporting by repeating the same incorrect message.

    What I did was to define what a magazine is. In very brief terms, I said that a magazine must have these components: Pagination, Design, Editing, Date stamping, Periodicity, Permanence. Where in those terms does it say NO INK ON PAPER? Of course, it doesn’t.

    What I am proposing is a concept of paginated media. Is not a printed magazine paginated media? Perhaps you don’t think so. Clearly Tony Silber, the publisher of Folio, doesn’t.

    Could a digital magazine fall under the definition of paginated media? I think that it does. Do you disagree?

    Is it now your interpretation that only an ink-on-paper product is called a magazine? It sure seems that way. Is that how you intend to promote innovation in the magaine business?

    You Pal Bob

  3. Tony Silber just posted the Following on his Folio Blog:

    Interpretations of Bob’s Point
    Submitted by Tony Silber on Wed, 05/20/2009 – 11:02.

    Just to clarify, I never said in my story or headline above, and Bob never said in his speech, that Bob was EXCLUDING print from these characteristics. His point is that they don’t REQUIRE print. Samir in his blog read it as Bob saying these six elements are “Anything but print.” That’s not correct.
    Thanks Tony for the clarification. This issue of what is a magazine is very important for the industry to ponder.

  4. I changed the headline and posted a clarification on my Web site, but what I initially wrote was not wrong. None of the six characteristics require ink-on-paper. That’s the whole point of a new definition of what a magazine is. It wasn’t bad reporting and I didn’t miss the point.

    • Thanks Tony for the clarifications… I know what you initially reported and wrote was not wrong. My friend Bob is pushing this issue, once again, yet he offers no answer to the question regarding the business model and making money. He has become an expert in the art of selective reading and responding. Until we find ways to amplify the future of print, we will all be out of business. Thus the tag line for the forthcoming Magazine Innovation Center: Amplifying the Future of Print.

  5. RE: “…can you name ten magazines with no ink on paper editions that are making any considerable amount of money?”

    Josh Gordon has assembled a list of ad supported digital magazines. While some on the list have print versions, many do not. View them here:


    Today’s economy is about execution – not ideas. I’m no more surprised that a print-only publication could succeed than I am to see digital-only successes.

    The business models are vastly different: Graduate Prospects just stopped printing, period. They haven’t changed their layout or done much with multi-media. But they sell lots of ads and get plenty of readers.

    Hearst uses digital-only magazines for sole sponsor custom media projects. One sponsor gets all of the eyeballs.

    The point is, the business models vary, as do the levels of success and failure, just like in print. What IS different, though, is the cost of launch and the multimedia capabilities (a significant plus for digital) juxtaposed with the current lack of a truly tactile experience (the significant minus).


  6. Hey, Marcus–The other part of Bob’s speech that was perhaps more compelling than the one that got all the attention was on the soon-to-be-mass emergence of e-readers. As Bob said, “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” And today’s Kindles, etc., are going to give way to some truly tactile, remarkable readers that may in fact relegate many (not all but many) ink-on-paper magazines to niche status at worst and thought-leadership oriented ancillaries at best. It’s not logical to rely on the Pony Express when you have an Internet-enabled handheld device.

  7. Samir,

    Since you mentioned revenue generation in your opening statement, did Abe’s Penny mention their business model? I guess since the sub price is $48 for 6 months, that’s their revenue plan for the pursuit of dialogue.


    • Dear Jeff
      What is wrong with charging for a preservable piece of communications that folks can share and use as a keep-sake for future generations. The beauty of print, as a whole, is that it helps preserve our relationships…I show letters from my late father that he wrote me to my kids; I doubt that my kids are keeping my e mails or digital images I send them. With every new electronic gadget they get, out with the old and welcome to the new. So, $48 to preserve some of our history is a very small price compared to the new and improved Kindle and at what cost and how often do I need to upgrade to get the newest in the line of Kindles? The amazing thing is how people forget about mentioning the price to be connected electronically, whether the actual connection (the internet) or the gadgets used to connect.
      All the best

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