Friday, April 25, 2008

Magazines: writing for the reader or the community?

It is a standard trope in magazine journalism training that we put "the reader" first; that we always write for "the reader". If this is really so then shifting to a Web 2.0 philosophy of publishing for a "community" shouldn't be a problem, for what is a community but a bunch of readers? If "the reader" always comes first, then "the reader" decides what is good and what is bad – not the writer, not the editor, not the publisher. Translate reader into community and you have the possibility of a networked decision rather than a mass of discrete individual decisions.

But, of course, it hasn't been "the reader" who has come first in reality. It has been the corporate entity that publishes the magazine. The idea of "the reader" has long been circumscribed by limitations that are not always transparent to "the reader":
• there have to be enough readers to make publication commercially worthwhile
• there have to be advertisers who want to reach them
• there have to be all sorts of deals along the distribution system to allow them to get their magazines
• there have not to be all sorts of counter-deals (spoiler tactics of various sorts; buying up all the shelf space) to allow the magazines to get into retail outlets

and so on.

When all is said and done, the printed magazine is a non-editable, non-selectable, previously filtered, handing-down-the-tablets-of wisdom, broadcast entity. The much vaunted research that big publishers do before a major launch or during re-launch preparations are, looked at through the other end of the telescope, an attempt to define the community that will want to buy the magazine.

This approach still works. All the new ways of consuming media do not suddenly negate the old ways, just as all the new ways of marketing do not negate the old ways. What has changed is that these methods are now only effective for the last generation of publishing, and they do not work so well for networked communities.

That's where we're going ...

This posting is a work in progress, after my synapses got fired up reading one of David Cushman's postings on Faster Future: this one.

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