De-emphasizing the website (a pile of thoughts)

A number of smart posts have recently focused on a thing called “sub-compact media” or “subcompact publishing” or “artisanal media.” (That last one is ridiculous. Artisanal?)

What we call it is less important than what it is: The much-needed, long-desired, I’m-so-happy-this-is-happening metamorphosis of digital content.

For far too long publishers have crammed digital material into poor representations of newspapers, magazines, and books. These forms work fine in the physical world, but their digital counterparts leave much to be desired.

The humans that read this stuff have adapted to these half-assed mechanisms. But if this was being handled correctly — if we were truly beginning at the beginning — publishers would see that reader adaptation is failure. Readers shouldn’t have to adapt. It’s the forms that need to change.

An essay like this tells me we’re getting closer to how it’s supposed to be. This is an exciting time.

Somewhat related to all this: For a while now I’ve toyed with the idea of publishing a website without placing undue emphasis on the website itself.

So much of the focus is put on the part that falls between the www. and the .com. Yet, the audience doesn’t really gather there. Or, if they do, they don’t only gather there like they once did.

People go where they want and consume what they want. The smart publishers are the ones that diversified their offerings and embraced this shift. These publishers go where people already gather.

But what if we took it a step further? What if we considered all platforms to be equal?

Instead of this:

How it is. Website at the center

What if we did this?

How it should be. Content at the center

This requires a shift in mindset.

If you’re going to build one beautiful chair, you put everything into that single piece of furniture. But if you’re building a beautiful set of chairs, you approach the project differently.

This same shift applies to content. Crafting a single article is different than crafting a set of content. Without this shift, what you get is one good thing (the article) that’s orbited by a bunch of lazy repurposed bits (headlines as tweets, the same excerpt cross-posted on every social media platform you use, crappy metadata, and on and on).

Here’s how this revised model could work:

→ Choose three to four platforms to focus on (RSS, Twitter, Facebook, mobile app, website, Google+, newsletter, LinkedIn, whatever works best for you). Be picky. Have a firm understanding of who uses those platforms and how you can serve them. This understanding will guide the publishing program. You’ll be customizing material for each audience on each platform.

→ A single piece of content is made up of components customized for each platform (this is why you should be picky with your chosen platforms — the more platforms you serve, the work you have to do).

Example: An interview would include the main Q&A posted on the website and formatted lovingly; two or three tweets that showcase notable quotes/points so Twitter followers can get the gist of the interview without diving into the full version (really — give them everything and they’ll come to you for more); a shorter version of the interview for the email newsletter, or perhaps a few portions that only appear in the newsletter; and a special RSS version of some sort (I’m not sure what this would entail, exactly — Do your RSS readers want shorter content or longer? Do they want multimedia or not? These are the questions that need to be answered).

The important thing is that a “piece” isn’t finished until all these components are composed and published (kinda like Voltron).

→ Analytics would need to expand to include activity across platforms (this requires a lot of hand work because cross-platform analytics tools are horrendous, but the work is necessary and you can’t skip this step).

To be clear: You still need a website, and that site should be your canonical source. But your content should not be limited to, nor defined by, the website.

I need to think about this more (clearly), but I wanted to jot down a few introductory thoughts before they evaporate.

Known issues:

  1. This is rough. Very, very rough. Much work needs to be done.
  2. This will not work for sites that depend on impression-driven advertising. But here’s the thing: that model was always going to be an interim step. The sooner you get past it the better you’ll be positioned for the inevitable transition to come. (I’ve been harping on this for a long time.)

The cult of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly

As a kid, I used to live for new editions of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly. Apparently, I wasn’t alone:

American boys growing up in the 1980s approached Beckett Baseball Card Monthly with something like religious reverence. For many of us, it was the first magazine we bought and the only one we leafed through regularly. The magazine’s circulation eventually reached about 1 million, with many of those issues no doubt destined for the book bags of young boys. We walked the school hallways in the ’80s with our Becketts sandwiched between our textbooks, and we followed the price fluctuations of our favorite players with slavish devotion. Beckett’s valuations served as the foundation for all card trades.

And just so everyone realizes how serious/geeky I was about baseball cards: I worked at The Baseball Shop in Orleans, Ma. through most of high school. I loved this stuff.