Thursday, September 27, 2012

Off The Page – David Hepworth on magazines and beyond

Closing a magazine teaches you a lot about publishing in 2012

We had to close the Word in July. It had run for nine years. We liked to say this was as long as the Beatles. We'd told the team that they would look back on their time on the magazine with affection and pride, not least because there probably weren’t going to be any other magazines like it. The day of the brave independent company backing its hunch and asking the public to pay on the newsstand seems to be gone.
All that remained was to announce it to the readers, advertisers and other interested parties. That process told me more about why we had to close it than anything else could have done, underlining what a porous world this has become and how magazines can no longer operate as they once did.
The Word magazine
In days gone by, the announcement of a closure would have meant a call to Media Guardian. There would have been some mistrustful bargaining over exclusivity. Were we going to get stitched up by a commentator? Were important facts going to get lost in the rush to come up with an overarching theory? At some stage a press release would have been sent. (Even the expression ‘press release’ seems as arcane as the words ‘penny farthing’.) There would have been a tense wait to see whether the story was treated sympathetically or shoehorned into a larger narrative. Then you would have to hope that your readers and interested parties happened to read Media Guardian. The story would have taken a few days to get around.
This is what actually happened. Before I went to the office that morning, I posted a statement explaining the closure on the Word website. Then I tweeted, using both my own and the magazine’s account, saying that the magazine was closing. This linked to my statement.
By the time I got to work forty minutes later, the story had gone further than it would have gone in an entire week in the old world. The Word site had fallen over twice through weight of traffic. People I hadn't seen for years were in touch. Slower ones were told about it by relatives in China. Media Guardian were on the phone, chasing after the conversation that they once would have started. This neutering of what was once the main channel for news of this nature is something I suppose I could have worked out but to see it acted out in this fashion was plain startling. This is the truth about stories that start on the web. They get more not less coverage in the mainstream media because the mainstream media are aware they’re no longer in control.
The rest at In Publishing

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