Facebook (Really!) Launches a Print Magazine

What’s new in publishing, you ask? How about this for a mind blower: Facebook has launched a print magazine.

You read that right. Facebook – the behemoth of all things digital – just announced the premier issue of Grow, according to Piet van Niekerk in FIPP. (And just an aside: be careful Googling that title. Apparently the folks who named the magazine didn’t realize they already had some fairly “heady” competition for that title.)

The magazine, van Niekerk explains, “quietly made its appearance in business class lounges at Heathrow and a few more exclusive spots in and around London in early June. Simply labelled as ‘Issue one’ the large format magazine runs a white on black cover image of Swedish retail ‘guru’ Oscar Olsson, who is – according to the magazine’s cover line – ‘H&M’s millennial whisperer’.”

According to Nicola Mendelsohn, a VP at Facebook, the idea for Grow was born at an off-site staff retreat last year. The inaugural issue, she notes, explores the rise of niche brands, “one of the most interesting business stories of the past couple of years.”

Of course, they aren’t the first digital native brand to launch in print – by far. Bonobos, Airbnb, Net-a-Porter to name just have few, have launched print products to grow their digital-first brands. 

Somehow though, this one seems … huge. 

Facebook has previously turned to print to try to stem the flow of fake ads. Meanwhile they faced a serious backlash for the dodgy way they proposed ranking news outlets for trust. Maybe they truly understand the trust bump of printed magazines – even as they struggle to comprehend the role they’ve played in damaging the business model of good journalism.

More likely, this was a pet project that was given the green light long before it became obvious that Facebook would need some serious reputation rescue. Although judging from initial reviews of the editorial content, it appears they might be better off sticking to being a platform.

“While some of the editorial content in Grow is interesting, like how ‘the world’s largest spirits producer learned to think small’, some features seem to be insignificant, like Paris’ start-up scene, which is – apparently – in ‘a battle with London for the European tech crown’,” van Nierkerk continues. “Or an article with child-like illustrations about the ‘Recipe for the perfect disruptor’ referencing vague ingredients such as ‘vigour’, ‘pasion’, ‘clarity’ and ‘grit’, that might wing it front-of-book in an EasyJet inflight magazine. Even the cover story lacks form and focus, although the photography is excellent (and looks rather costly).”

Of course, they could be excused for the less-than-stellar content – after all, Zuckerberg has been fairly consistent in his assertions that Facebook is a platform, not a publisher. Well, until now, anyway.

I have to agree with Juan Señor, president of Innovation Media Consulting, who tweeted his surprise at seeing the “massive display bookshelves” in the lounge at Heathrow:

The publishing industry is in a state of nearly constant flux, and not a day goes by that I’m not amused, informed or delighted by what’s happening. Let’s just call this a banner day and move on. 

Facebook launches a print magazine – who would have guessed?