Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why small literary magazines fail: A lack of business sense

Nieman Lab interviewed David Rose, the editor of the literary magazine Lapham’s Quarterly. He has a rather pessimistic view of the world of “small magazines,” describing it as merely a breeding ground for upper middle class post-graduates who have given little thought to the business or marketing sides of their magazines, other than the strategy of building it on the back of unpaid interns.

Part of the problem that the industry faces is that the rush of small magazines that are appearing have terrific intentions, and their editorial mission statements are very noble and should be applauded, but what’s missing is publishing expertise. There are no publishers at any of the magazines that you’ve mentioned1 and I think that’s very revealing about the attitude emerging in the small magazines. This Etsy-based marketing strategy. I wouldn’t even call any of them marketing strategies, to be blunt about it.

I think an awful lot of the magazines are stuck in terms of audience development. They don’t really get much further than their existing audience. They can keep hold of a certain percentage of their readerships with very rudimentary renewal techniques.

Rose somewhat contradicts himself later in the piece; first he claims that these magazines fail because of a lack of business sense, and then later claims that none can succeed as a business, and can only continue publishing under the support of generous, rich benefactors. I found his approach to the industry as rather small-minded and myopic, not recognizing that just because a small magazine can’t pull in much through standard CPM display advertising that there aren’t other emerging models that allow magazines to extract more money out of small but influential readerships.

“A website that coexists with a print magazine should be there primarily to complement it and encourage it, to pull in a broader print audience,” Rose says. “There’s no reason for a website to exist for a print magazine other than to sell print subscriptions.”

Many would argue that this a completely backward, anachronistic view of how publishing should work.

News orgs that release mobile apps are overly optimistic that consumers want to rebundle their news

It struck me, while reading an article about Al Jazeera trying to “win over millennials” by releasing a mobile app, that news orgs are essentially trying to put the genie back in the bottle when they create mobile apps. The lessons we’ve learned over the past decade is that news has become unbundled, that if I really like an outlet like Al Jazeera then I can subscribe to them on RSS, Facebook, Twitter, or any number of other social streams where I now receive my news. Al Jazeera wants to win over millennials by assuming they want to rebundle their content and return to a single-channel stream of content. I would be interested in seeing how many news orgs have had any real success (read: over a million downloads, or even 100,000) with releasing a mobile app.

Why selling smart home technology is nothing like selling smartphones or computers

Fast Company’s Austin Carr profiles Tony Fadell, the CEO of the smart home technology company that Google acquired for $3.2 billion. Much has been written about the “internet of things,” in which many of the disparate hardware devices in our lives — TVs, lamps, thermostats, refrigerators — begin to talk to both each other and our smart phones. But I was struck by one interesting observation in the piece: Unlike smart phones and computers, which we buy with either the conscious or unconscious knowledge that we’ll be replacing them in two to three years, we don’t replace our appliances with nearly the same frequency:

The company studied thermostat interfaces going back to the 1950s, realizing that even the advances of touch screens in the late 1990s and early 2000s did little to improve the ancient but resilient physical-dial user interface. Whereas incumbents incorporated endless digital features, such as calendars and photos, Fadell and Rogers understood that additional icons confused consumers. Household devices are not upgraded every two years like a phone; more likely, they’re replaced every 10 or 20 years. The design had to be timeless. “We thought about all kinds of crazy animations, background images, even adding a weather [app],” Rogers recalls. “But it’s a thermostat: It’s not supposed to cook you breakfast.”

New York Times editor struggles to name a story the Times published with as much impact as TMZ’s scoop on Ray Rice

The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove has one of the first in-depth interviews with New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet after his tumultuous ascension following Jill Abramson’s firing. The most interesting tidbit comes at the end of the interview, when Baquet blithely acknowledges that TMZ has gained a major foothold as an outlet that publishes explosive journalism:

Still, for all its excellence, even Baquet is hard-pressed to name a recent Times story that has equaled the explosive impact on the popular culture of the gossip website TMZ’s release of the Ray Rice elevator video. For the past week, the images of the Baltimore Ravens running back cold-cocking his now-wife, Janay Palmer, have dominated a spirited national debate from kitchen tables to the White House about the National Football League and spousal abuse.

“You’re not going to hear any dis of TMZ’s Ray Rice video from me,” Baquet says. “I’d like to know how they got it.” Baquet notes, however, that a great deal of public conversation was also sparked by Times reporter Walt Bogdanich’s stunning investigation last April of how local law enforcement authorities dropped the ball on a rape allegation against Florida State University Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. “But I ain’t knocking the fact that TMZ had a great scoop,” Baquet says. “I wish I had it.”