{ Online publishing platforms: is diversity worth it? }

April 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

The internet has so many publishing platforms and concepts. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t think I want to play that game.

Ok, here’s one that sounds cool: Deca. Its (experienced and acclaimed) journalists formed a cooperative to create and sell longform stories for tablets, phones, etc. with subscriptions that cost $3 per story or $15 per year. They’re hosted on Tugboat, a “storefront” website (publisher? platform?), which reminds me a little bit of Beacon, without the crowdfunding emphasis.

Deca’s inspiration, so the story goes, comes from Magnum, a member-owned photo agency formed in the 1950s as photo technology became more accessible. It’s a great inspiration to cite, though Deca is certainly not the first group of writers to strike out together on the internet (see Climate Confidential, for instance). And they almost always sound cool, really.

It would be great if the independent online publishers could make it. It would be great if they find an audience that pays. But there are so many projects out there that are going to start and fail. One acclaimed platform, Byliner, sort of crumbled in September 2014 last year after its launch in 2011. Here’s an obituary for the website, with a subhead that reads, “Longform journalism just isn’t a huge moneymaker.”
“What originally excited me about Byliner was that it wanted to let writers chase those long investigative stories and would pay them to do so,” the author says. “It didn’t work out. That doesn’t necessarily mean such a model can’t work — it just means the expectations have to be different. And by ‘different,’ I primarily mean ‘lower.'”

(Another online publisher, Vook, bought Byliner. Vook appears to market to individual authors and claims Byliner as its “first digital imprint,” though the difference between Byliner stories and other Vook titles seems unclear.)

Ay yi yi, maybe I’m a geezer. But if longform journalism just isn’t a huge money maker, it seems like journalists are working too hard to diversity their platforms for publishing (how to write, edit, get published, get paid), when really we should be working harder to diversity how we’re funded. Some are doing it right, like Texas Tribune with its sponsored events (and angel investors), Rocky Mountain I-News with its journalism training workshops (and foundation sponsors), Belt Magazine with its books and Atavist with its publishing technology that it licenses to other publishers. These multi-pronged approaches combine bold business ventures with quality journalism. That’s true creativity. And that’s a game I think I’d be down to play.

What do you think? Am I being a downer? What platforms/publishers do you think are doing it right? Leave me a comment, I want to talk about it!

{ Also }

Drinking
Three-Eyed Raven, a black saison from Ommegang Brewery

Listening
To Pimp a Butterfly
by Kendrick Lamar

Reading
April issues of Fast Company and n+1

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