5: Curb Your Enthusiasm

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Glenn Fleishman is joined by Jason Snell, the editorial director of IDG’s consumer division and impresario of The Incomparable Radio Network, to talk about how publications can appeal to people who aren’t the most obsessed about a topic. Cultivating a community of slightly interested people, who represent the largest potential audience segment, is hard to do.

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Show notes

Jason has a rich background in experimenting with web sites and early content-management tools.

  • Jason started the short-fiction online magazine Intertext in 1991.
  • He was also one of the folks behind Teevee.org.
  • Jason created a version of TeeVee run by NetCloak.
  • TidBITS was fed from a FileMaker database.

Glenn once helped try to put the Yale course catalog online (in 1990), and Prodigy was a reasonable suggestion as a place to host it.

Film.com was incubated by Glenn’s first Internet company, and later purchased by Real Networks. (The domain was sold at some point to MTV.)

Back in the day, subscription revenue had high margins for a few reasons:

  • Captive market for advertising (no other places to advertise).
  • Second-class periodical mail was cheap.
  • Newsstand prices weren’t unreasonable for single issues.

The publication cycle used to be frenzied as one approached the date (weekly, monthly, etc.).

Jason describes changing from a punctuated cycle to a continuous one.

  • Originally there was separate print and web staff.
  • The Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer had this odd joint venture run by the Times that handled the web side for both.
  • Wired Digital was run and owned separately from Wired magazine for eight years.

Glenn: “A blog is a ravening maw that demands to be fed.” Jason: “The process monster will eat a month’s worth of food in a day.”

Glenn helped produce the 1991 Time magazine man-of-the-year cover.

Jason and Glenn both came from backgrounds involving enthusiasm, whether professional, consumer, or personal.

The gadget sites might have set the tone for how news sites developed.

  • Gizmodo posted constantly.
  • Posting all your stories at once, one time doesn’t work.
  • You have to spread out posts across a day.
  • But that creates a medium in which “enthusiasm for a subject is required on some level.”
  • Dozens of stories every day.

The old value proposition for publications was based on yield. You paid a small amount of money and got a thick bunch of stuff, only some of which was interesting to you.

New York Times Innovation report was leaked, maybe strategically.

The current approach drowns out those with mild interest.

Yahoo Tech’s launch caused tech writers to roll their eyes, but it’s aimed at a general audience.

Jason walked away from comic books, but returned in recent years. But no site is focused around the casual visitor who wants to know what happened in the lst month: “we roll stories onto the site, and roll them right off.”

Where is the revenue pipe for making a site that is casual? Compared to a magzine that was general in focus but appealed to narrower and broader audiences at once.

Publishers love:

  • People who come all the time.
  • Those who have a specific need and come and find a single page.

Glenn has three examples of publications that may fit a more casual, but interested audience:

  • TidBITS has a long-running weekly mailing list that grew into a web site, but its mailing list continues to remain very important. Take Control Books as a division of the publication is outside the churn of Web publishing, plus the patronage model for supporters.
  • The Magazine is fully subscriber supported and we publish every other week. It’s a general-feature publication. Finding the audience has been maddening.
  • Medium commissions material and works as a blog platform, but it has no chronological focus. The stuff bubbles to the top that is most interesting to readers.

Podcasts have become the broad overview that we can’t find on web sites! They are weekly, fortnightly, monthly, and remain popular.

Accidental Tech Podcast:

  • They air their live recording.
  • People participate in the audience (the chatroom).
  • 75,000 listeners per episode.

Slow sites:

  • The Wirecutter
  • gdgt, which was folded into Engadget after it was acquired and doesn’t exist as a separate thing
  • This Is My Next at The Verge, which doesn’t have a dedicated section or landing page.

Boing Boing shifted from a firehose to a slower pace: firehose (the old blog style feed) is on the left, and the main part of the page is a slower-moving set of features.

Posted on July 16, 2014 and filed under Podcasts, Publishing, Enthusiasm.