Transparency And The Future Of The Magazine

Wired Editor (and author of The Long Tail) Chris Anderson wonders what radical transparency might mean for his magazine in a two part post (part onepart two) on his blog The Long Tail. It’s a truly fascinating read and is some serious food for thought for anyone who is involved in developing technologically coherent operational strategies for the evolving magazine space. Parsing emerging cultural, technological, and social signals into a workable framework and publishing model is a process that has many publishers scratching their heads… having a glimpse into how one of the most culture-tech savvy pubs in the industry is managing that process is not only interesting and valuable– it’s damn near priceless.

The idea that a magazine might thrive by becoming as transparent as it possibly can… by exposing its innards to the reading public… by letting the outside world inside… is a dangerous idea. The traditional publishing model for magazines was based almost entirely on control. To be sure there have been some brief points of reader interaction (letters to the editor the most oft cited example), but for the most part the editorial voice of the magazine was strictly authoritarian. The editor was the pacemaker, the prime object in a workflow that moved with purpose from a stage of raw data to refined information that ultimately ended with the reader-consumer. As long as the reader was conditioned by social, cultural, and technical mores to be a passive consumer this model thrived.

Obviously those mores have changed… are changing… and will continue to change… as technology develops at a blistering pace. Readers are no longer conditioned by their environment to simply consume… interaction is enjoying a resurgence and once again becoming a vital part of the human experience. People are getting up off their collective asses and they want to build things, process information, customize their own experience. Once voice won’t hold their attention. The Editor’s role has changed… it’s just that nobody is quite sure yet what the role has become.

Anderson’s thoughts on the changing nature of the magazine and the role of the editorial voice in the emerging mediascape are an excellent starting point. His “catalyze and curate” methodology is a logical evolution of the traditional role and his idea of transparency fits perfectly with what the modern reader is conditioned to expect in terms of interaction. Only time will tell how well this works on a business level. Will advertisers be able to find a logical space inside the conversation that will develop? Will sales personnel have the necessary vocabulary and vision to sell inside this new conversation?

Certainly there are an abundance of questions that still need to be answered before these new models can take hold. Yet one thing is clear… there will be change. It’s going to be a lot of fun getting from here to there… enjoy it.

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