The Man Behind Make Magazine and Web 2.0: a Q&A with Dale Dougherty
Dale Dougherty is co-founder, editor and publisher of Make magazine, a tech-oriented publication launched by O’Reilly Media Inc. in 2005. The magazine currently has a paid circulation of more than 90,000 and its Web site (MakeZine.com) touts more than 4 million page views per month. Make is a “Do It Yourself”-based magazine with projects for building almost anything.
Dougherty was instrumental in building O’Reilly’s publishing business and Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, credits him with coining the phrase Web 2.0.
Dougherty spoke with Publishing Executive Inbox and offered insight on Make’s success, coining the phrase Web 2.0, the balance between print and Web, and more.
INBOX: What has been the catalyst behind the success of Make magazine and MakeZine.com?
DALE DOUGHERTY: … In terms of our success in publishing, we have done a good job of utilizing the unique strengths of print and the Web. Print allows us to provide a very compelling experience to our readers. … Our production values are high, and you can see it and feel it in the magazine. We use online to organize our community and pay attention to the projects and interests they tell us about.
Yet when our print magazine arrives in the mail, it is perceived as special. I’ve tried to design the magazine so that it is something a reader will keep. I like the Japanese concept of a ‘mook,’ a hybrid of a magazine and book. …
INBOX: Why did you decide to keep Make at a quarterly frequency instead of increasing the number of issues?
DOUGHERTY: I wanted to maintain the quality of the magazine (and its higher price both on the newsstand and subscription). I still think it’s a nice model—less frequency in print and doing more online across multiple formats—text, podcasts, etc. We’re doing a special newsstand issue for Halloween, which is a particularly great holiday [for the readership]. We hope for this special edition to become an annual.
INBOX: Can you explain the origin of the term Web 2.0?
DOUGHERTY: I came up with the term as a name for a new conference. As part of the Internet bust in 2000–2001, there were a number of casualties. One was that there were no longer Web conferences for developers and designers and those trying to think about new business ideas. The other kind of casualty was one of confidence—people wondered if new business opportunities and new technologies were going to present themselves.
Through O’Reilly I could see a lot of small efforts of individuals just simply starting new companies and experimenting with new ideas. I thought this was a sign that a new generation was going to be coming forward, and they would do things and think differently than the previous generation. Web 2.0 was also a way to signal that the next new technology was once again the Web.
Don’t go looking for something else. This technology of the 1990s was going to continue to gain in power and capability and lead us through the beginning of the 21st century.
INBOX: How can magazine publishers best capitalize on Web 2.0 for their own publications?
DOUGHERTY: One idea is to ask yourself the question: What does my audience know that I wish I knew, with “I” being either an editor or a publisher? Many people have characterized Web 2.0 as consisting of conversation in the forms of blogs and wikis that allow more people to participate. This could mean as much for a printed magazine as it does for a Web site. Ideas and stories may begin to flow from the audience, not just to the audience. You are expanding your sources at the same time you are deepening the relationship you have with your audience—again as individuals, not as an abstract demographic.
Remember that online, people can respond in an astonishing variety of ways including photos and videos, and often they are capable of producing something that would amaze anyone.
INBOX: What are publishers doing wrong when it comes to balancing print and Web initiatives?
DOUGHERTY: Even tech savvy people were getting wearied from the amount of technology that was available to them but which they could not really absorb. … I tend to think that the virtues of print are being ignored by print publishers. The new technology of the Web gets so much attention but we can do things in print that you just can’t do online—and one is hold a person’s attention for a longer period of time.
That’s a virtue. If a magazine is not going to be visually interesting and stimulating—which is to say as smart as it is beautiful to look at—why should readers care to buy this print product? If you’re going to pour lots of text in columns, you might as well put it online.
INBOX: What is the role of rich media on your Web site?
DOUGHERTY: I think the big part of our success online is that the Web site is not about us but about our relationship with the community. Our blog is our main Web site feature and our editor, Phil Torrone, is just so good at what he does. For many people, he’s the face of Make magazine because he’s so present to them. For over a year, we’ve also been creating a podcast called “Weekend Projects with Bre Pettis” and I’m pleased with [the] traffic. We also produce extras online, which contain audio and video.
On one hand, I’m excited that there’s so much we can do online. However, the business models are still in development and it’s important that we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves.
INBOX: The company created the Maker Faire, an event attended by 20,000 people in 2006, its first year. How can publishers create a successful event for their publication, as you did?
DOUGHERTY: My belief, which goes to the essence of the magazine itself, is that what we want most is to learn from first-hand experience and that includes meeting other people to share our own experience as well as learn from their experience. So people want to get together and talk. My advice is to try to keep it that simple. Invite your readers to get together and talk and it’s best in person if you can arrange it.