BRANCO Brkic is an editor's dream and a publisher's nightmare. He is a groundbreaker in South African publishing. He boldly starts new titles, usually with brilliant content, design and marketing, and charges in headfirst - with admirable courage and independence of spirit. Regularly, though, he overreaches himself and loses control or has to close down titles. And then he picks himself up and charges back into the bullring, full of energy, enthusiasm, commitment and passion for great editorial products.
He started in Brainstorm magazine, then Maverick, and briefly Empire, then went online with Daily Maverick and now is launching the country's first iPad newspaper, iMaverick, in mid-August.
If content was undisputed king, then Brkic would be at the top of South African publishing, for his products are always interesting and enjoyable. The Daily Maverick, for example, is a lively and valuable site, full of opinions and analysis that live up to the site's name and which regularly shows up the dull and predictable publishing that dominates our mainstream. Journalists like working for him because he values quality and independence.
I am sure he is right that iPad publishing - or its equivalent on other tablets - is the future of magazines and newspapers and the way to get people to pay for online information. It allows him to avoid the huge costs of printing and distribution, which are dragging down newspapers around the world, and spend instead on people, the key to produce better content than anyone else and the stuff people are prepared to pay for.
The iPad, as he puts it, allows him to bring together the best of newspapers (the full package of edited material) and the best of digital (glossy magazine quality and full multimedia). If anyone can do this well, it is he.
He has come up with an interesting model in that he is packaging an iPad with a subscription and says he only needs 6000 to 8000 buyers to reach break- even. That sounds optimistic, and I fear he is a monthly magazine man who is making the mistake so many of us have made: underestimating how difficult, demanding and expensive it is to produce a good daily paper from scratch.
He will publish one daily edition, at 6.30am. This differs from Rupert Murdoch's pioneer iPad newspaper, The Daily, which is constantly updated. Here, I suspect Brkic is falling between the restrictions of print and the demands of digital. If you read something online, you expect it to be up to date. On the other hand, one likes the idea of an edition, complete and rounded off. Surely there have to be some updates if a big story breaks?
Brkic describes his readers as "cash-rich, but time- poor". Give them the quality and speed they want, and they will pay for it. Those who move from his Daily Maverick website to his iMaverick app will feel they have moved "from economy to business class", he says. He has a way with words and images.
Business Day and News24 have also launched iPad applications. Business Day has been surprised by getting 3000 downloads without much marketing. It has been able to ride on the back of its Financial Times partners, whose iPad app is one of the best. But it is also half-owned by the local company Avusa, and is hampered by the constant and sour tug-of-war between its joint owners.
Avusa has put its online energy into Times Live, and launched Business Live separate from Business Day, whose own online presence is tired and rickety. Now there are plans to take control of the online side back from Avusa and into Business Day's hands and to inject some resources into it.
"What we need to do is become a content business, not necessarily an advertising-driven business. The ad revenue is great, but it is not reliable," says Business Day editor Peter Bruce.
So, on the one hand Brkic is launching a futuristic paper designed for the web. On the other, Business Day has a safer strategy, experimenting with its brand in online forms from the comfort of a big company with lots of resources.
I hope they both succeed.
. Harber is Caxton professor of journalism at Wits University.