Indie mag tech: Steven Watson of Stack Magazines
This post is the first in a series called #indiemagtech where we look at the tech products and services being used to power the independent magazine world.
Today we get a look at the tech behind Stack Magazines, a subscription service that sends out a different magazine every month (subscribers never know what they'll get next).
Steven Watson is a big magazine fan (and Subsail advisor) and started Stack back in 2008. On top of the subscription business, Stack has become an important voice in the indie magazine world, with a popular blog, podcast and annual awards ceremony, all aimed solely at covering and boosting independent magazine publishing.
As a monthly subscription service, Stack has some unique challenges and tech requirements. Alongside his all-important subscription engine and communication tools, Steve relies on a combination of written word, audio and video platforms to host the content for his blog.
Over to Steve...
This is the real guts of the Stack subscription. We offer monthly, quarterly and annual plans, as well as one-off purchases, and Chargebee makes it simple to manage all those different types of subscriptions. I love the subscription model but it can get very confusing very quickly, so it’s important to know that there’s a solid system in place. It’s very definitely a recurring revenue platform, which means it’s not ideal for selling single magazines, but they’re always working on new functionality and I’m looking forward to seeing what their new Shopify integrations will bring.
I’m sure everyone will have used Shopify before. There are some frustrating quirks in there, like the fact that we’re not able to charge customers in different currencies, so we had to create a workaround that allows us to show prices in different currencies, before converting them back to pounds for the actual purchase. That’s obviously not ideal, but I think overall Shopify provides a good way for us to keep track of stock and sell magazines.
Productivity and communication
My entire life is in G Suite! We run our email, calendars, shared files and pretty much everything else for Stack through G Suite. I really like the simplicity of the way that everything fits together and just works.
We used to have a big sheet of Stack team passwords that I was constantly a little bit stressed about, but 1Password means that I can sleep easier at night. It’s a password keeper, which means you just need to remember one (very good) password to then access all your personal and team passwords online. It has a password generator too, so all our team passwords are now things like
G3tPa2&l:Ops, which is much better than
I started the Stack podcast three years ago and at first I was using a little voice recorder with built in microphone, edited together on Garage Band. I’ve since gradually upgraded the recording gear, but the biggest single difference came when I started using Audacity. It’s a free piece of software that has all sorts of clever stuff running in the background, so you can easily edit audio and it will automatically help you out. For example when you remove a section of audio in Garage Band you have to make sure you cut in exactly the right places or you get a glitchy jerky sound, but Audacity steps in and smoothes it out so you’d never know there has been a cut.
The other bit of tech we use for the podcast is Soundcloud. As with Audacity, I like it mainly because it makes life easy: I upload the audio to Soundcloud and it creates an RSS feed that is then used to push the episodes to iTunes and all the other podcast platforms. That mechanism makes the podcast unique for us; normally, once we’ve published a piece of content we need to start working to put it in front of people via social media and sometimes via email, but as soon as we release each episode of the podcast we can see it being listened to by people who follow us. I love that!
We’ve used Mailchimp for ages, and these days we use it to send three main types of emails:
- Every month when we’re sending the magazines out to subscribers we also send an email to let people know their magazine is on its way. That’s really important because it means subscribers can start to look forward to it arriving; they can reply to the email to give us feedback; and it often prompts people to let us know they’re going to be moving, need to pause their subscription, etc. That monthly contact really helps to keep everyone’s information up to date and clean.
- Maybe once or twice a month we send a newsletter to our newsletter list updating people on new stuff we’ve had on the site – we’ll use that to push our bigger stories that we’ve produced, and also point people towards the more popular stuff they might otherwise have missed.
- Every week we send an email to our shop list focusing on one new magazine we’re selling, letting people know what it’s all about and why they might like to buy a copy.
Some people like to receive the newsletter but not the shop updates, and almost everyone who receives the shop updates also chooses to have the newsletter. But importantly, everyone can choose what they want to see via our GDPR-friendly sign up form.
We publish a new video review most weeks; I think it’s a good way to show the actual physicality of the magazine, rather than just looking at pictures. It helps to hear the sound of the pages turning, to see how big it is, even get a sense of how heavy it is! We use Vimeo for those videos because I like to know that people can watch them without any ads, and we’ve built them into the Stack site, so that as you scroll down the homepage or our editorial page, videos start to auto play as they appear on the screen.
Watch out for more #indiemagtech posts coming soon!
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