Magazines Aren’t Dead. Especially Online.
Solving the challenges of the digital publishing ecosystem
We created WebEdition (from the ground up, of course) to package and deliver beautiful digital issues of magazines. We sat down with the strategists and developers behind the platform to get a sense for why they decided to tackle the gnarly problem of online publishing.
What’s the difference between print and digital publishing?
Justin: There’s a different pressure in digital publishing because of the transparency. In print, you can sometimes make a lot of assumptions. On the web, you see how folks are reading online and what they’re actually reading.
The downward pressure for online [publishing] has been to write content that is super catchy, so anyone floating by is going to want to stop and read. The goal has been to get clicks and keep traffic up.
Zack: The models now are totally different in terms of how publishing is paid for. In print, it didn’t really matter if people read an entire article, they just had to buy it.
Justin: Online publishing is recovering from the effects of the clickbait world.
“Online publishing is recovering from the effects of the clickbait world.” — Justin Schroeder
Zack: Mostly thanks to those who have introduced something different — groups like Vox or Quartz.
Justin: Still, it seems like there are two models: In one, the title is catchy and there is enough to keep you engaged even if the article overall isn’t that new, interesting or different. In the other model — more like what Vox is doing with things like Verge — publishers are curating a personality around a certain channel. This is what we want to offer with WebEdition. Quartz and Vox are publications doing something valuable, writing to a certain audience. Click bait isn’t needed.
Zack: Magazines have done all that really well historically — controlled circulation, focused communication.
What lessons has WebEdition taken from the online publishing torrent and tumble over the past few years?
Zack: Your stories need to be able to travel well. It’s about portability. But you have to understand your audience first, and WebEdition is a really great place to try and figure that out — to learn more about an audience and what they want and need.
“Your stories need to be able to travel well.” — Zack Bryant
Josh: Exactly. And without introducing other barriers. One of the challenges with putting a magazine online is the work to make it good. Often you end up with a crappy CMS where these well-written pieces live at 12-point Arial font within an enterprise site. The other alternative is the page flip — uploaded images of printed pages — at the cost of accessibility, readability and shareability. But building something custom to reach your audience can’t always be justified from a cost perspective. If you believe that the 5 million subscribers from your print readership are going to be engaged online, then you can justify the money for custom work. But not everyone knows their audiences that well.
Zack: With WebEdition, we’ve worked hard to make sure there are no other excuses as to why your audience might be wandering away.
Justin: Over the last ten years, I’ve learned that you don’t have to write content for the entire world. You need to write about what you know about, what you’re good at. This is blogging: content first, author second, channel third. There are no channels about everything in the world. That’s Buzzfeed, and because they’re one of the biggest fish, they can do that.
Zack: People have figured out how to be part of the conversation, and how to use their unique voice. There probably aren’t that many successful blogs that talk about everything. This approach has hugely influenced publications online. It’s no coincidence that the folks who invented Blogger years ago invented Medium, too.
What does WebEdition offer that’s unique?
Josh: For the past decade, publications have been trying to figure out who they want to be — given everything the internet exploded about reading and publishing content. The downward pressure Justin mentioned earlier leaves room for a tool that is intended for closed circulation. Yes, it’s still shareable and findable through Google indexing, but it is also delivered to somebody who wants to read it.
Zack: The shift is from your magazine as the thing to the audience as the thing. The spectrum we live in has a PDF of the publication on one end and folks who feel the need to incorporate articles into their CMS site on the other end. What is the function of your content? Is it to put it into a form? Is it to produce fodder (put it in the CMS)?
“If the group of people is important enough, then you ought to have a channel just for them.” — Zack Bryant
If your point is to engage the same group of people over and over again, then WebEdition is the best tool. And honestly, if the group of people is important enough, then you ought to have a channel just for them.