Independent publisher targets niche open source market
Four years ago Tectonic.co.za was started as a hobby by journalist Alastair Otter. Today the website has more than 20 000 readers a month and is readying to launch South Africa's first-ever open source print magazine.
Open source software is software released under a license that allows others to re-use, alter or copy the underlying code. The best know open source software today is the Linux operating sytem which can be used in place of proprietary systems such as Windows.
"Over the past year we've seen phenomenal growth in interest in free and open source software," says Otter. "My partner Jason Norwood-Young and I came to realize that there was a growing readership that was not catered for by the existing IT print publication market. Most existing IT magazines offer only superficial and occasional open source and Linux coverage and features. And those magazines that are catering exclusively to for the Linux and open source community are imported and typically cost more than R100 each.
"We realised that with a readership already established on the website and our long-time experience in the open source sector we were ideally placed to take the next logical step - a print publication."
With the open source software market at a critical level, it is the perfect time to launch a new voice for the community, believes Norwood-Young. "The market is just starting to take off, with critical mass expected within the next two years. Thanks to committed marketing from the likes of the Shuttleworth Foundation, Novell, IBM and others, open source is achieving a great deal of mindshare in the South African market. Open source tools have moved from the developer space to focus on the end-user's needs almost overnight. Alastair and I think that we are at the edge of an all-encompassing change in computing, and we believe that this is the most exciting place to be at the moment - not only reporting on the dramatic trend, but also leading it, being its voice."
The magazine will be formally launched in March 2005 although a preview edition will be made available electronically to subscribers later this month. The magazine will be full a colour A4 monthly. Initially the magazine will be available only through subscription although business manager Norwood-Young says it will be looking to distribute through major retailers as soon as possible.
Editor Otter says the magazine will be an extension of the existing website rather than a replacement. "The online medium is ideal for news-type publications and this is where Tectonic.co.za has excelled over the years as one of the few sources of open source news in South Africa and on the African continent. The print version will give us the space to be more feature oriented with the space to look deeper at particular issues.
"The content of the magazine will span a range of user levels and interest groups, although it is more tightly focused on the technical reader. So although articles will focus on both new and experienced users of open source software, they will be written to cater for users that want to learn more about open source software. And although a good portion of this may focus on the Linux operating system, it will by no means be exclusive. It is important to us that users get to experience open source themselves, even if it means using free software applications on a proprietary operating system. What is important is that they get to experience open source first hand.
"Free and open source software has always been about community and the ability to learn from others. With Tectonic Magazine we intend to mirror this community and if readers learn new skills or expand their knowledge of a subject through reading our magazine, then we've achieved a large part of our goal," says Otter.
Does the move to a print format indicate a loss of faith in online media? "Not at all," says Otter. "If anything it is a positive indicator for online media. It is because of the online medium that Tectonic.co.za was able to build up a readership and a following that today means that we are in a strong position for the launch of this magazine. Having said that, online media is a more challenging environment in which to build a publishing company. The advertising revenues for online media are low by comparison, and a much harder sell. Locally advertisers appear to still be cautious about placing their adverts online despite a clearly growing online readership.
"To date there are relatively few success stories in the online publishing arena. And those that have been successful are successful in large measure because of their dominance in the market and their significant readership figures," says Norwood-Young. "For niche publishers like Free Speech Publishing (publishers of Tectonic Magazine) where the numbers of potential readers are by definition smaller, the online world remains a hugely challenging one.
"In many ways I expect Tectonic.co.za to benefit enormously from this venture through the increased exposure a magazine offers. At the same time the website becomes a critical extension or bridge between the various issues of the magazine. The website has always been about publishing open source news from Africa. Now we are able to take this one step further and expand on the major issues within the pages of a magazine," says Otter.
To subscribe to Tectonic Magazine, visit www.tectonic.co.za/mag/