From the Editor: Know the Reader, Know Thyself
My favorite part of a very good keynote address from Josh Tyrangiel, editor of Bloomburg Businessweek, at this year’s Publishing Business Conference & Expo (see full coverage here) came near the end of his talk. After some personal reflections on the changes in publishing since he first joined Time magazine as a cub writer in 1999, and recounting the overhaul of Businessweek under his direction, Tyrangiel arrived at a stark observation. “When I talked to the editors at Businessweek, they confessed that the magazine had been remade and rebranded and refocused so many times in the previous few years that they could no longer remember who the audience was they were supposed to be reaching,” he said. “We alleviated that problem by quite literally tossing the market research into a garbage basket and declaring that everyone at the magazine, from editors to production staff, was a proxy for the reader.”
In other words, as Tyrangiel said a bit later, the goal was to “be the reader.” In his BoSacks: No B.S. column in this issue, Bob Sacks says Roy Reiman, founder of Reiman Publications, found success by identifying with his audience as comrades and fellow enthusiasts—by “being the customer.” As Sacks points out, this is not the same as engagement; knowing how to reach someone is not the same as knowing them. It’s easy to forget this in an era focused on collecting social media fans and followers, being first (rather than best) out of the gate with news, and trying to capitalize on the hype over the latest gadget. All of us are virtually poked and prodded dozens of times a day from every direction, without thinking too much about what makes us stop and click, watch a video, follow a feed, or pick up a magazine. Which is ironic, because it’s our job as publishers to understand motivation, not just communication.