Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Readertorial: or, how a magazine can let go of content and trust its readers

Years ago when I worked for Emap, David Arculus –who was a big boss then and is an even bigger boss now – like to come up with pithy mottos. One was 'Recession means opportunity' (might come in handy again soon but not my concern here), another was 'People don't work for money'. This is perhaps easier for a well rewarded manager to believe than, say, a receptionist, but nevertheless there is a truth in it, especially where us creative types are concerned.
Thus, turning to the magnificent Clay Shirky's recent meditation on gin and the industrial revolution and David Cushman's persuasive look at the value of networks, then putting them together with the news that Vogue.com will relaunch with mash-up features and staid, staunch Hello is dipping its toe into the waters of reader-generated blogging, I come to the conclusions that
a) Web 2.0 has reached the tipping point of accepability and
b)magazine readers will work for nothing, that indeed they are eager to, provided certain conditions are met.
They always have wanted to contribute, of course, and often for nothing but the tools now exist to let them do even more. This is not in any way akin to allowing the lunatics to take over the asylum, just in case you were worried; more like making sure the campers are inside the tent pissing out.
So, what are those conditions?
• Your magazine (product/brand/whatever you want to call it) must be well loved; this is a given for hundreds if not thousands of titles
• You must provide the tools for readers to be able to create; it's got to be widgets-a-go-go
• You must not be afraid of stepping outside your brand silo and making use of Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and whatever else is going
• You must be prepared to start meaningful conversations with people who appear to have some kind of beef against your title
• Err, that's it (for the moment)
As Professor Shirky has pointed out elsewhere, Web 2.0 material does get edited – after it has been uploaded. If it's not popular it will sink to the bottom; if it's good – and your readers will be judging this – it will rise to the top.

This is still a work in progress.

Update 1: http://fasterfuture.blogspot.com/2007/07/cant-make-money-with-content-make-money.html

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