Friday, February 17, 2012

Once upon a time in Chicago

Posted By on 02.17.12 at 12:48 PM

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Andrew Jones had me with DoubleTake. DoubleTake was the sort of failure you’d rather have on your tombstone than almost any ten successes—it was an astonishingly handsome, beautifully photographed, and elegantly written magazine that Dr. Robert Coles founded at Duke University in 1995 and that died ten years later.

“[It will be] a home where image and word have equal weight,” said the editors in the first issue, “where photographers and writers have equal license to wander and to wonder: a home that welcomes poets and novelists, photographers and journalists, short-story writers and essayists, some of whom are known, and some of whom are unknown, and all of whom recognize the power of narrative to reveal and then to transform.”

Andrew Jones, e-mailing me from San Francisco to ask me to give his new monthly iPad magazine, Once magazine, some attention, referred to DoubleTake as a touchstone. Because the new issue is his fifth, and he sent along glimpses of earlier issues, I can take the comparison seriously. “We publish the best photographers in the world,” he asserted. “ Two of our contributors won World Press Photo awards a few days ago.”

But while previous stories—three an issue—have been primarily journalistic, the new issue is a departure, combining photography and fiction. The setting for this fiction is Chicago, and Jones wanted me to know about it. The photographer is Paul Octavious, a Chicagoan, and his pictures were all taken at Cricket Hill near Montrose Harbor. The author is Highland Park native Peter Orner, who a few months ago published Love and Shame and Love, praised in the Tribune by critic Adam Langer as a novel that “serves not only as an ode to the history of Chicago, but to Chicago literature itself.”

Their combined work is called “The Moors of Chicago,” and in introducing it Once tells us that “the narrative rests on the back of the written piece, while the photography pulls along the viewer by setting a tone and securing the place. . . . We like to think that this kind of story has a magic that isn’t present in any other format—in print or on the web. Our belief is that in stories like these, photos, videos, and words can sit together differently, invoking a new kind of narrative that is not solely written or shot, but created in tandem. It’s one for the imagination.”

We’ll see for ourselves. If you’re interested in downloading this issue onto your iPad—and I suggest you should be—here’s a link that will help you do that.

Jones also laid out his business plan, always of interest when a young entrepreneurial publisher is hoping to go places on the Internet. First he pointed out that when DoubleTake went under Coles mourned, "There is no outlet for photographers who are, after all, social observers to offer their work to the public." Then he explained to me how he intends to run Once:

Because we hear—and this is now hammered home as we are talking to different investors—that content is more or less free (thanks, internet). We're working to get some money back to these storytellers, these social observers. That's got to be the place to start if you want to reimagine publishing. To begin with, we offered a fifty-fifty revenue split with our photographers. In Apple's walled garden of the App Store, they nab a 30 percent tariff on all sales. We split the remaining 70 percent right down the middle. That works out to be just about 12 percent of total App Store revenue going to each photographer. We're adjusting that model somewhat as we are able to pay fees upfront now. But the spirit of paying well for great content is the foundation we built this magazine on, and one we will continue with.

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