Richard Branson Launches Project as ‘First Truly Digital’ Magazine for iPad

Someday, someone will figure out how to make the digital magazine format workable and profitable … I kind of think that day is still years away though.

Virgin tycoon will be up against Rupert Murdoch’s Daily

“This is not a battle! This is not a war!” Richard Branson declared, guns blazing, at the launch in New York today of his new digital venture – a monthly interactive magazine custom-designed for the iPad.

Fighting words from the Virgin tycoon, intended to squash reports that his entry into the exploding iPad applications market brings him head-to-head with Rupert Murdoch who is soon to launch his own digital-only iPad publication, the Daily.

Having told his audience of about 50 journalists and technophiles in a downtown Manhattan hotel suite that he was picking no fight with Murdoch, Branson went on to say that he was picking a fight with Murdoch over quality.

“If it’s a battle, it’s a battle over quality. Based on 30 years of reading News of the World and other papers [Murdoch] publishes, I think on quality we’ll be willing to be judged.”

So that’s clear then. This is not a battle, though it is a battle over quality.

Then Branson unveiled his “new baby” which, after several incarnations, has settled on the name Project. Never short of a soundbite nor shy of hyperbole, he described it as “the first truly digital magazine by creative people for creative people”.

For the price of a cup of coffee – “an expensive cup of coffee,” Branson said, earning brownie points for honesty – the iPad user can download Project through the Apple app store. For £1.79 or $2.99 a month you will have about 100 pages of content poured into your tablet computer.

Project’s editor, Anthony Noguera, said the small team that developed the product – including Seven Squared, an agency part-owned by the Guardian Media Group – had tried to combine the best of print magazines with the opportunities of digital technology.

The launch cover features actor Jeff Bridges whose sequel to Tron (1982), Tron: Legacy, is scheduled to hit cinemas in two weeks. At first glance the cover is conventional, staid almost, with a portrait of Bridges and elegant cover lines.

Touch the iPad screen and it comes alive. Bridges starts to walk across the magazine front, which takes on the distorted feel of the sci-fi film.

Inside, there is a gallery of photographs from Bridges’s previous films; touch any one and the actor’s grainy voice is heard recalling the making of each work.

A travel feature about Tokyo is illustrated not only with photographs shown off to striking effect, but also videos that take you into the heart of the city.

An item on a Jaguar car in prototype allows users to look around the inside of the vehicle as well as to listen to the engine sound.

By bringing together traditional words and pictures with digital sound and video, Noguera said he hoped Project would stand out amid the cacophony of the internet. “This is a much more immersive experience than a website. When you talk to iPad users they say they are reading more than they ever have.”

Specialist digital publishing websites that had the chance to test-drive the app were not entirely convinced. CNET said the Bridges videos were “cringeworthy to watch” and questioned the concept of a digital magazine that saddled itself with the restrictions of print.

PaidContent found it to be frustrating and confusing, and more in tune with a print magazine than with the iPad.

Project will have some obvious strengths and weaknesses when it does come up against Murdoch’s effort, which is expected to go live in the new year.

As a monthly with 20 full-time staff, Project will be more static than the Daily with its 24-hour turnround and staff of 100, although Branson promises regular updates and additional content.

On the other hand, Project promises to be highly interactive, with links to blogs and open access to users to comment on and contribute to its content.

The Daily has already been criticised, even before launch, for having no links in or out of its iPad pages. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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