Dan Rowden, Subsail
Dan Rowden is a web developer whose love of magazines has led him to develop a number of sites to support indie publications – he even helped us at magCulture at one stage. Originally from England, he now lives in Mauritius with his wife and young family. His latest project is Subsail, an online service designed to help magazines manage subscriptions. We find out about his week ahead and hear how Subsail has been received.
How was your weekend?
It was really good. It’s winter here in Mauritius, but that only means 25°C and a breeze. We went to the beach three times, drove around the north coast, did a large food shop, had lunch out and hung at home. I have three children under six so there’s never a dull moment.
Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
As an independent web developer, I can work from anywhere (which is incidentally how we ended up living here in Mauritius; they have a very rare self-employed visa meaning you don’t need to be sponsored by a company to live here). I usually work from home or from a coffee shop, though my choices are reasonably limited. Grand Baie, my local town, has a population of just 11,000. I normally drive the seven minutes to Vida e Caffé, a coffee chain I know from living in South Africa. It’s noisy and busy but the coffee is decent. Sometimes I head to a friend’s new bakery/cafe a little bit further away, in the holiday town of Trou aux Biches.
Describe the state of your desk.
Amazingly tidy, because I don’t have a desk. I float around the house when I work from there, mostly standing at the kitchen counter or sitting outside on our back porch. My clients frequently ask about the birds chirping away. It’s a lovely place to work but the Mauritian summer really discounts it as a viable place for most of the year (right now it’s amazing). I’m a tidy person, though, so if I did have a desk, it would be neat until the kids come and leave their toys or drawings all over it.
Which magazine do you first remember?
My first magazine love was Mountain Biking UK, which I subscribed to for years when I was a teenager in the late 90s. I was never really great at riding but getting absorbed into other people’s lives and reading about events, new gear and being exposed to new things really grabbed me. I think that period really set me up for my current obsession with magazines, though there were quite a few years between the two periods.
Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
I tend to read a range of magazines; there are just so many out there to discover, read and enjoy! I always love getting Offscreen (and my daughter enjoys predicting the cover colour as I open the package) as it’s relevant to my field, but also is a cracking example of independent publishing, from idea to execution. I’ve been picking up Fortune frequently recently, mostly because it’s the only decent English magazine I can find here in Grand Baie, but also I like reading about business and technology. Other titles I’ve really enjoyed recently are Anxy, Backstage Talks and Lodestars Anthology.
You’re a digital developer, why so much focus on the indie magazine world?
I don’t find these fields are mutually exclusive, and a lot of digital workers love tactile, physical things. My focus on magazines stems purely from a love of reading, learning, design and the feeling of enjoying something someone has put a lot of work and passion into. My magazine-related work is me just helping out in a way I know how; online and with technology. Magpile, for example, came about because I was logging my own magazines and realised that others may want to do the same, so I created a community-driven platform where everyone can discover and enjoy magazines.
Tell us about the new Subsail service?
Subsail is solving the problem of selling subscriptions as a regular ‘product’ online and turning a single sale into manageable subscription, subscriber and issue information. For starters, you can sell recurring subscriptions (something publishers can’t do because they’re usually tied to Shopify or Squarespace) that renew on their schedule, using flexible renew dates tied to issue releases. This is a game-changer as so many magazines are released on a very fluid schedule.
You can also import sales from the major e-commerce platforms, taking single orders and splitting them up into the bought issues automatically. The idea is to make a platform for every indie publisher, with really specific tools to help them with subscriptions (like automated renewal emails, and flexible per-issue exports for fulfilment). I’ve been building Subsail for over a year now, so it’s quite mature already, and it’s all been built with publisher input.
How’s it going — who's signed up?
It’s going well but it can be a struggle convincing people they need a new tool or that their current processes are inefficient enough in comparison. Magazines like Nang and MITT are using it to power their subscription sales, and others magazines like Knit Wit are using it for management of sales on their own websites. I think because it’s a brand new product, some publishers fail to see the instant value in it. I’ve made pricing really affordable to try to combat that but obviously, the best way for people to find out is for them to start using it. Now the platform is at a good point development-wise, I’m currently focusing on education and sales, trying to explain the product and its many benefits to publishers.
After MagPile, Subsail... what’s next for you?
I have been looking at Magpile and the Magpile Store recently to see how they can better serve the magazine world. I am at the beginning of a change to the Store, which is very exciting. I’m hoping to re-release it later this year. I also have a few magazine clients who I do freelance web work for (like Stack, Hello Mr and Offscreen) and I really enjoy that work. I want to be able live off magazine work; right now I do projects for companies in other fields and it just doesn’t grab me like it does when I work with magazines! I’ve also researched and planned out launching a magazine of my own but I haven’t got the guts or time to pull the trigger :)
What are you finding most frustrating about your work this week?
There have been some tough parts of freelance work recently. In two of my projects, there have been multiple systems in play and they haven’t quite meshed as planned. With Subsail, it’s totally different selling and explaining a product compared to planning and building it, though as more people find out about it and see what it can do for them, this will become easier.
What's going to be the highlight of this week for you?
Seeing publishers sign up and start on-boarding in Subsail is very exciting. I also talk with new users quite a lot through the in-app chat and over email, and I really enjoy that; getting to know them and figuring out ways to make Subsail better (sometimes instantly) with their direct feedback. I’ve also been recording some Mag Heroes episodes again recently, and have another one to release later this week; I still need to put together the episode artwork and record the intros and outros. Hosting and producing a podcast is totally different from web development so it’s great to be able to break out and do something a little different.
What will you be doing after this chat?
I have a big website launch this week with one of my magazine clients, which includes a brand new membership/subscription system (the fourth one I’ve built for magazines this year). There are a few things we need to go over and check are perfect before it goes live. Then there’s Subsail outreach and emails to send out. And more flat whites to drink.