Arianna Huffington has taken another giant leap towards her goal of total media domination with the launch of a paid-for, tablet-based magazine called “Huffington”.
Explains Christine Haughney in the New York Times: “‘Huffington’ will include a mix of short newsy items and three long-form pieces that will run 4,000 to 8,000 words every issue. The first issue, which is sponsored entirely by Toyota, will feature an article written by Peter S. Goodman on President Obama’s declining relationship with young voters. So far, there is no talk of turning the newsmagazine into a print publication.”
As regular readers will know, a weekly, topical, long-form iPad magazine is an idea close to my heart. So close, in fact, that no small number of wags have suggested that Arianna might have “copied” the idea from my own Not Safe For Work Corporation. It’s a flattering suggestion but, of course, a ludicrous one. For one thing, Arianna doesn’t “copy,” she “aggregates”. There’s a difference. More importantly, Arianna and I have a long-standing tradition of copying each other’s ideas.
A few examples…
Remember that time when, due to a hilarious set up circumstances, I ended up working for AOL? Sure enough, a few months later, Arianna joined the company too.
Then there was the time that I pointed out that one guy was grossly unqualified to run TechCrunch and should be fired. A few months later and — ta da! — Arianna embraced my idea as her own. Then there was her decision to start publishing ultra-topical ebooks based around current events: I’m happy to admit that I borrowed that idea from her. And now comes “Huffington” Arianna’s tribute to the work we’ve been doing at NSFW Corp. You’re welcome, Arianna. As ever, mi idea es su idea.
In fact, for all of our apparent differences (she’s rich and successful; I always turn my phone off when instructed to do so by cabin crew), it’s surprising how many things Arianna and I agree on.
Our minds are particularly aligned when it comes to the future of online editorial. Specifically the fact that advertising is a lousy way to support for high quality digital journalism and writing. And yet, simply putting everything behind a paywall is a terrible way to run an editorial business in a world where invisibility is a synonym for irrelevance.
NSFW Corp’s approach to this problem is two-fold. First, we charge for our written content. All of it. That’s the stuff we do best, and it’s the stuff that our beta readers have expressed a reassuring wiliness to pay for. (The truism that people won’t pay for online content has long being shown to be a falseism. People pay for online content all the time. What they hate is being given few paragraphs for free before being asked to pay for the rest. It feels like a bait and switch, and the vast majority of readers will simply shrug — or growl — and go read something else.)
The challenge for entirely paid-subscription publications, though, is to make potential subscribers aware of their existence. For that, NSFW Corp relies on the exception to the “give away everything or nothing” rule, being the “different media, different prices” rule.
Readers are perfectly willing to pay for content in one medium, even if they can also get it (or a variation of it) for free in another. Our daily audio show, NSFW Live, is available free on the iTunes store and features many of the same contributors one has to pay to read in the magazine. We build an audience through the spoken word, and a business with the written. And readers don’t care a jot about having to pay to hear the same “voices” in one media but not in another.
Arianna Huffington is also a fan of that two-prong approach, albeit with a slightly different execution. The bulk of HuffPost’s audience became aware of the site through glorious click-bait involving the Kardashian sisters and their continuing wardrobe malfunctions. So expert is Huffington at the art of SEO-driven publishing that she could eventually bring HuffPost to serious profitability through belly fat ads alone.
But unlike messrs Blodget and Cashmore of Business Insider and Mashable, Arrianna has aspirations to be a credible media power player in the mold of Murdoch or Charles Foster Kane. Hence the HuffPo’s famous “business in front, fun in back” approach which has lead to the hiring of writers like Peter Goodman from the Washington Post and John Montorio from the LA Times, an approach that recently netted the publication its first Pulitzer Prize.
And so, hot on the heels of HuffPost’s (editorially very decent) ebook line, comes the launch of “Huffington” — a credible news magazine for the (maybe) hundred thousand people who read the HuffPost without moving their lips. At 99c a week (or $9.99 a year), and with relatively low editorial costs due to the re-purposing of existing editorial writers, there’s a real possibility that “Huffington” magazine could at the very least break even. If it achieves even modest profitability then it’s inevitable that HuffPost will quickly roll out ezines for all of its most popular content verticals. The fact that high-spending advertisers are already lining up to support “Huffington” — Toyota is the launch sponsor — surely bodes well for that outcome.
NSFW Corp’s approach and that of HuffPost are slightly different, but the basic principle is the same: using free content (audio for us, an ever growing mountain of free blog posts for Arianna) to drive ezine subscriptions and ebooks sales. And it’s not just Arianna and I who have figured that trick out: Our friends at GigaOm have just announced their own line of ebooks (to compliment their existing GigaOm Pro service) and, of course, PandoDaily’s own Facebook IPO book continues to threaten the best-seller lists.
In fact, surely it’s only a matter of time before the editors of every other sizably-trafficked Web property catch on to the future of online publishing.
“Cashmore.” magazine, anyone?
“The Blodget Review”?
“LOLZ Alexia!” …?
You’re welcome, world.