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COSMOS Blog | 4 October 2012

By Wilson da Silva

FOR MORE THAN a decade, waves of disruptive technological change have swept our lives, and few industries have been as affected as publishing. Recently, this has become a tsunami, laying waste to business models, impoverishing once-mighty publishing behemoths and toppling proud mastheads.

In March 2012, Encyclopaedia Britannica ceased publication after 244 years; more than 200 newspapers closed in the United States in the past four years. Magazines did worse, with 428 U.S. titles shutting down in 2009, and 328 in the two years after that.

Why? The Internet, of course, and the many revolutions it has unleashed. The Internet has been blamed for the demise of many things: dinner party disagreements, travel agents, civil discourse and Nigeria’s reputation.

So it’s hard to believe that the first graphical web browser, Mosaic, launched only in April 1993 – the same year Microsoft created its first website. The following year, the first blog went live. Only 1.6 million websites existed, but more than 1,000 newspapers were already posting. Google had opened for business in a garage just a year earlier.

COSMOS Magazine was launched in 2005 and Cosmos Online, our daily science news site, in 2006. Since then, our audiences have grown: 100,000 adults read the print edition, 130,000 students peruse the browser edition, 300,000 visit the website every month and 25,000 receive the weekly email newsletter.

In July 2011, we at COSMOS began to review what we do, and envision where we wanted to be in five years. We looked at what other science magazines were doing and where the industry was heading worldwide. It dawned on us that we had a unique title, and that the emerging tablet market – spurred by the launch of Apple’s iPad in April 2010 – presented an opportunity to easily reach global audiences.

The iPad allows COSMOS to compete with the world’s biggest science magazines on an equal footing, without the delays and cost of shipping from Australia. Before the financial crisis and the rise of the Australian dollar, COSMOS sold almost as many copies in the U.S. as it sold in Australia.

COSMOS has always specialised in long-form, literary writing and lush design, and we’ve always had a global outlook. At a conference last year, I was introduced by Mariette DiChristina, Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American, as the editor of “the world’s only literary science magazine”; it occurred to me that, actually, this was true – no other science magazine regularly publishes 6,000-word stories.

WHILE THE PUBLISHING WORLD has moved to shorter format, we’ve gone longer. And although we’re in Australia, we’ve stayed global. This has helped COSMOS develop a strong following overseas; 15% of our subscribers are outside Australia and the same proportion of the 45 awards we’ve won have been international awards.

On our 7th anniversary, with the June/July 2012 issue, we launched our first iPad edition. It’s the result of nine months of development, and represents a complete reconceptualisation of the magazine. We didn’t just produce a print replica; we re-imagined COSMOS from the ground up.

It meant not just providing excellent content, but also seamless integration of video and animation, live updates, multiple layers of reader interaction, and a cross-platform approach to engaging audiences.

Suddenly, we had an outlet for all those fabulous images we could never quite fit in print. All those cool animations and videos we found in our research now had a home. And we began to develop our own animations and take advantage of emerging technologies, such as the 3-D-like walk-around panorama of Gusev crater we created for the July 2012 iPad special issue on Mars (timed to coincide with the arrival of Curiosity rover on August 6).

We decided to see the disruptive changes in publishing as an opportunity, not a crisis, and to reinvent ourselves to not only survive, but thrive. That’s why we’ve doubled our editorial staff and invested in new technology.

At COSMOS, it’s been the support of loyal readers that has made us viable – which is why our print subscribers receive the iPad edition free, despite all the extra images, video and animations.

And it’s why we’re excited about a world where creating engaging narrative content that readers want, and are willing to pay for, is the name of the game, because that’s been what we’ve excelled at for years. If anything can save quality journalism, it will be the readers who are willing to pay for excellence in writing, photography and design.

Our goal is to be the world’s #1 science magazine in five years. And, with your help, we will do it.