Launching a Successful Digital Publication: The Quartz Experience
When is the best time to launch a new publication? Why would anyone want to take that kind of risk? And how, in a rapidly-changing environment, is a content publisher to stay relevant?
The answer, if you’re Quartz, is to be bold and look for opportunity. Quartz founding publisher Kevin Delaney saw that many of the longest-lived and most successful magazines were formed in times of immense societal, global, and cultural change. He identified 2012 as such a time -- a time when all assumptions to the global economy were being challenged. And, in Quartz, he saw an opportunity to address these challenges and speak for the emerging global economy.
Last week, Kevin spoke to the assembled publishers at Yale Publishing Course’s magazine track, sharing how he and his colleagues at The Atlantic took a non-Atlantic-branded website from zero to profit in a remarkably short time. Inspired by The Economist’s feat of staying relevant through years of social, technological, and economic upheaval, his group began with the question: What would you do if you created The Economist today? What would it look like? What would it be like?
Quartz, they decided, would be defined by three qualities: One, it would be mobile-first. Two, it would be journalistic. And three, it would be global.
Delaney’s vision for Quartz was that it would be digitally-focused and still a home for smart, provocative thinking and great writing. Its perspective would be global. This drove staffing decisions. Today Quartz’s staff speaks thirty languages and reports from 115 countries. The target audience includes what Delaney calls “post-national business executives” -- people who work in countries other than where they were born, and who fly on planes a lot. Today that audience comprises 10 million unique readers per month.
Working from a mobile-first premise meant focusing on where today’s news consumption is happening, on mobile platforms. And it meant starting with design assumptions that are very different from the 1990’s-era desktop-first strategies. When design begins with the small screen, it creates different ways of thinking about journalism. Content needs to stack; images need to scale. The source of readers needs to be considered: Facebook has become a place where people get their news, and Quartz works with that.
Taking Facebook traffic and social sharing into account, a site is better than an app, and free is better than paid. “The value of an app is repeated loyal readership,” Delaney told the group. “We’re developing apps, and publishers need to do it, but compared to site visits the audience will be relatively small. Site content minimizes the friction of someone reading and sharing in a Facebook feed. A paywall prevents sharing, and that limits opportunity for growth.”
And a Quartz discovery dubbed “the Quartz curve” tells us that the 500-800 word standard of newspaper articles has got to go. Nowadays an article needs to be short, focused, and easily sharable on the one side, or long, in-depth, and unique on the other. Quartz finds that long-form articles of even 13,000 words can be very successful, with content so compelling that people read it over the course of several site visits.
Charts are part of the digital-focused journalism that Quartz pioneers, to the point that charts must be among the most standard parts of content provided. Reasoned arguments can be made through the charts; and the journalists themselves are given the tools and resources to create their own charts.
“Our journalists create really interesting charts, given the tools to do so,” Delaney said. “We created a tool called Chart Builder, which is now used by many news organizations.”
Another change from vestigial newspaper technology comes with the way headlines are handled. Quartz reporters are asked to write their own headlines. “That was impossible with the old newspaper manufacturing process,” Kevin explained. “But reporters can write really good headlines.”
“The future of publishing requires media to focus less on driving people to a website,” Delaney said. “Success is based on bringing a fresh perspective. It’s based on the ability to have content out where the readers are, and to monetize it there. Content needs to be set free to live where its audience is found.”
Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (www.PSCSConsulting.com), offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google Plus, Magazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.