Adapting to readers

Last week, I wrote a post responding to John MacArthur’s op-ed critique of the role of search engines (Google in particular) as media evolves. In it, I cited The Atlantic and The New Republic (TNR) as examples of magazines taking proactive approaches to defining their places in the world.

Around the same time, Justin Ellis of the Nieman Journalism Lab wrote about “turning The New Republic into a technology company that adapts to readers”. In his post, Ellis captures TNR owner Chris Hughes talking about both his expectations for the magazine and the environment in which it operates.

As for expectations, Hughes wants to see the magazine “in the black” by 2015, in the wake of its 100th anniversary year. He plans to get there by experimenting with a variety of things, measuring impact and either refining or rejecting ideas that don’t perform. Hughes remarks make it clear why the magazine’s profitability matters:

“I think it should be profitable,” he said Tuesday at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. “I think it’s our challenge to ourselves, and to the world, to prove we can find a profitable model.”

On the environmental front, Hughes noted that 20% of TNR’s site traffic originates on mobile devices. A similar share comes via three sites with strong social ties: Twitter; Facebook; and Reddit.

At the time this post was written, Ellis’s work had received two comments criticizing TNR for using writers to manage social media. Although Hughes talked about TNR’s plans to consider the sources of the magazine’s total audience, it’s not clear who would manage that work. It’s easy enough to think of it as an extension of the traditional audience-development function.

I don’t know if the plans Hughes discussed last week will carry the day, although I do think the idea of “generating online revenue from readers” is the right goal. Paying attention to where those readers are and what helps get them to TNR content seems so simple, they might even find a way to make money on it.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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