Politico Magazine: Or How The Web Turned To Print
Last week I wrote about the continued importance of magazine covers, as well as the trend of online-born publications, such as Pitchfork and The Awl, experimenting with digital magazine-style formats. With perfect timing, the first issue of Politico Magazine landed on our doorstep today in all its printed glory. The cover features a well-designed through-the-keyhole image of Barack Obama in his office, intended to convey the isolation and loneliness of being the one and only president of the United States. (Well done, by the way.)
As a complement to the printed issue, the magazine has its own landing page at www.politico.com/magazine. It has also been given a prominent position on the Politco homepage, all the way to the left on the main navigation bar. Yet a lot of magazine publishers seem ashamed of their magazines. If you were a businessman from another planet visiting Forbes.com you’d be hard-pressed to discover that they also publish a magazine.
Time will tell whether Politico’s decision to launch a resource-heavy product like a print magazine makes sense from a business standpoint, but if ads are any indication, Ford, Bank of America and Coca-Cola think it might have some traction. (It should also be noted that Politico launched in 2007 as a website with an accompanying newspaper and was bolstered early on by its print revenue, so they know a thing or two about print.)
What is clear is that the magazine as a content capsule is effective-perhaps more effective now than ever since we live in a world of increasing informational chaos. Editor Susan Glasser offered some explanation in her Letter From the Editor in Volume 1, No. 1 of the magazine: in the current era of information overload, it’s important to “break out of the news cycle, to pull back from the flood to understand what it’s all about.” Glasser promises to do this with “original reporting and ideas-driven journalism.”
Totally different subject matter, but music website Pitchfork offered a mirror image explanation for its decision to launch Pitchfork Weekly: in order to offer a more “immersive experience” that draws “inspiration from the design of a print publication with enhanced photos, graphics, and long-form features and cover stories.” The announcement published on Pitchfork continues: “With the pace of the web, it can sometimes be difficult to slow down and engage with great writing, and the sheer amount of words that we publish each week can be overwhelming.”
Notably, Pitchfork bucked the early web dogma that online articles have to be short. Instead of posting 300 word blurbs, they posted 2000-word essay-like reviews. I’m not a fan of their musical worldview, but I have to give them credit: from the start, they published content with purpose and with a unique and consistent editorial voice (AKA a strong brand). Now they produce books and have a couple annual music festivals-and are positioned to grow as a brand.
The lesson learned: People will continue to gravitate to sources of meaning and understanding. Magazines provide a framework for meaning and understanding, constructed from visual elements and the written word, that is superior to the web for some purposes. Those folks that think Flipboard-like social curating tools are the answer are mistaken. They’re one part of a multi-part answer to digital monetization.