PUNCHING IN: In June, Punch, an iPad magazine — appazine, if we must — uploaded a video to its app and YouTube simultaneously.
Called “32 and Pregnant,” it was a parody of MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” and also Brooklynites’ parenting anxieties — the plight of too-small closets, insurance plans that won’t cover home births, the frightening prospect of not getting your kid into a solid pre-K program.
This story first appeared in the July 16, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I give up,” says an exasperated mother, tears streaming down her face. “Look at me,” her husband screams at her. “It’s TV, then satellite, then you can change the channel.” The video got picked up by a couple of blogs, and it became, surprisingly, Punch’s most popular video since its launch in April, with nearly 120,000 page views.
It was an unexpected hit because the video came during the iPad start-up’s mitochondrial stage. Jim Windolf, the Vanity Fair contributing editor and former New York Observer veteran, had just joined as editor in chief and was beginning to cobble together ideas.
With his second issue, which went up earlier this week, the magazine’s plans are finally coming into focus. Windolf says they’ll now be uploading new material every other Tuesday. And he’s locked down several regular contributors — humorist and former “Late Show With David Letterman” head writer Merrill Markoe and former Observer columnist George Gurley, among them.
Punch is one of several publishers trying to break through on tablets, where there’s been only mild success. The Daily, News Corp.’s heavily-funded iPad newspaper, signed up 80,000 paying subscribers through last October — its publisher Greg Clayman told Ad Age — a number that’s not enough to keep it from bleeding buckets of cash, anywhere from $30 million to $60 million, according to several estimates. Recently, there’s been speculation that its future is uncertain. Daily editor Jesse Angelo did not respond to requests for comment.
The Huffington Post also has skin in the game, having recently launched Huffington magazine. But it’s not saying how the new app is faring. “We don’t publicize our download numbers,” said a spokesman.
The stakes for Punch are much smaller. It’s coming up now on 10,000 downloads, Windolf says, and the free app makes its money through advertising.
Windolf joined Punch in April, after the start-up had already been in development for more than a year. It was conceived by former Radar editor Maer Roshan and David Bennahum between spitballing sessions for an iPad-only magazine covering pop and political culture, the founders told Capital New York earlier this year. Bennahum, who is now Punch chief executive officer, is a new-media kibitzer — he was involved in the launches of Mediabistro and the Daily Candy newsletter — and he was able to raise $2.25 million in investor capital to get Punch off the ground.
For the first issue, released April 12, the founders put up several pieces, but after that, “the bank was empty,” Windolf said. He came on board after Roshan had moved on to concentrate on The Fix, the Web site he founded to cover the addiction and recovery industry that he has since left, he said, to write a book. Windolf’s first task was to scout up-and-coming writers and comics, and assign pieces to get the app ready for a regular publication schedule, a lengthy process that didn’t bear fruit until June.
That’s when “32 and Pregnant,” by filmmaker Chioke Nassor, went up, along with what Windolf calls an “unhinged essay” on Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and a new quiz. Now, Windolf said, the pieces are in place to keep up with weekly updates following a similar template — typically a text-heavy piece, a video short and a handful of games.
Markoe will be doing a monthly video, and Nassor will be doing two a month. Besides Gurley, who has a piece coming in August, “Japanamerica” author Roland Kelts and humorist Mike Sacks are working on material. Drew Friedman, an illustrator whose work has appeared in the Observer and the New Yorker, is also working on a piece.
Windolf’s Punch is partly influenced by Spy. There are quizzes and many imperceptible details in bigger pieces, two Spy hallmarks. In the most recent issue, “Tiny Pundits,” a send-up of political talk shows acted out by a group of girls, has a news scroll in small caps: “Thomas Pynchon to appear on ‘The View,’” “Mayor Bloomberg glances askance at coffee.”
In Spy, you’d have “investigative journalism that was also funny” and so Punch has a history of early, pre-Internet viral culture.
But there’s also material that might appear on Funny or Die and Comedy Central. The videos have resonated with those sites, and some have recently partnered with Punch to cross-publish pieces.
“Those partnerships have resulted in Punch’s biggest hits, but, encouragingly, some of the longer pieces, like the Mormonism essay, have overperformed, too, Windolf said.
“It shows people can come to the iPad, and also, it seems, have the patience to read an article,” he said. “We’re creating this atmosphere that people can go into and lose themselves in.”