Yet there are other ways publishers can innovate, whether it being in marrying verticals that haven’t been spliced together before, embedding unusual content into digital editions, or creating websites that fly in the face of conventional wisdom about number of posts and length of content.
Below are five examples of recent-ish digital launches which have attempted something new.
There will be much more like this at the Digital Innovators’ Summit, taking place in Berlin, Germany from 20-22 March 2016. Registration for DIS 2016 is now open with a limited period “mid-year” special offer, discounting standard ticket rates with €1,000+. Book your place today as this offer ends at the end of August.
Launched at the end of March in the UK The Pool is the brainchild of long time women’s magazine editor Sam Baker and BBC Radio Six DJ and freelance writer Lauren Laverne.
The pair claim to have delivered an alternative to more traditional websites that target women in the 20s-40s demographic. Whereas most editorial driven websites offer a linear approach with content appearing throughout the day, The Pool is built around content segments tailored to what the editors think their audience is doing at that particular time. So, for example, there’s a news drop at 11AM to be consumed with a hot drink, lunch time video content and then at night an insomniac’s music playlist. There are also traditional female style threads like fashion and food, but these are cleverly scheduled, so for example at 4PM, the site offers the reader some ideas as to what to eat tonight.
It is a fascinating ploy which has undoubtedly been influenced by the timetable based content strategy of both radio and televisions.
Whether it works is a moot point. It is very hard to gauge whether readers are accessing the content at the times in which the publishers expect them to. Nevertheless from a business perspective the concept of segments works in a very effective way with native advertising and in the long run this is what might prove to be The Pool’s key strength.
We’ve discussed Wait But Why before, and with good reason: it’s fun, erudite writing style and unique approach to publishing content has undoubtedly captured the zeitgeist, drawing in over 1.6 million users per month.
It is a venture whose success has baffled many mainstream publishers and media watchers,. How can a site, that is in effect a personal blog, albeit a very insightful one, create such reader loyalty and prove so enormously popular? Especially when the site only publishes an average of one post per week and many features run north of 3000 words.
Perhaps it’s because its followers champion the site for restoring their faith in the internet’s ability to throw up stimulating reads. Also that each post, as they are so rare, is a mini event which instantly attracts thousands of readers.
From a business perspective even though longform is notoriously expensive to provide the running costs of WBW are low. This is small independent publishing at its best. It’s created by just two people, old friends Tim Urban and Andrew Finn – one creates the content, the other handles the business side of things. The high quality of the content is evidently what drives readers to the site. Yet high quality content is hardly exceptional; what mainstream publishers can really learn from Wait But Why is that churning out content which hasn’t been thoroughly researched just doesn’t ring true with a lot of readers.
Perhaps the secret is to get authors to write about what they’re really interested in – whatever that might be, their passion for the subject will come through, and that’s what entices readers. Every article on Wait But Why obviously excites its author – even though there’s only one – and, in the founders’ words, is the culmination of years of friendship and deep conversation. That’s what makes it so compelling.
And as for making money this is a site that is proud to be ad free because ‘ads are gross.’ Instead the pair monetise WBW through the store – which offers t shirts, mugs and posters, as well as asking for donations. I am reminded of a wildly popular blog/web comic with a similar tone, Hyperbole and a Half. Created by a solo woman, Allie Brosh, it has amassed over half a million Facebook likes and spawned two books. It makes money by selling its unique artwork on posters, mugs and more.
Libertine is an interesting example of how a small, independent publisher can not only create a community, but also monetise what they have developed in an innovative way.
Libertine began life in 2013 as a high-end print magazine aimed at intelligent, thoughtful women. Its first online innovation was to create a list of influential women that it calls the Libertine 100. The company describes the list as ‘a carefully chosen community of thinkers with complex, beautiful and potentially world-changing ideas. They challenge our thinking and motivate us to do bigger and better things together.’ On a practical level the group help determine the site, and the magazine’s editorial policy and contribute many of its key articles.
They also enable the company to branch off into other ways of monetising their brand, for, in addition to selling the magazine, the website also sells Libertine products like notebooks. The company also regularly organises events that draws on their community of 100 women. Libertine underlines the potential of creating a community around a brand and then harnessing that group to develop, promote and ultimately monetise the content.
Pause, which is created by Shuffler.fm, a Dutch based music discovery service, is an iPad magazine which curates articles (invariably interviews with musicians) from content partners like Pitchfork alongside some original content. Its clever twist is that the reader can listen to the tracks while they learn about how they were created.
From a technical perspective the magazine is very impressive working perfectly well on large screen smartphones as well as tablets. It boasts a very slick interface and an intuitive user experience. Again it is a moot point whether listening to music while reading works – perhaps this depends on the individual.
There is very little innovation in music publishing at the moment and Pause offers a few clues as to how media brands could take digital versions of traditional magazines.
Brooklyn based start up Clapway, which is a couple of years old, makes this list because of the seamless way in which it fuses two verticals, tech and travel, that don’t at first glance seem to have a huge amount in common. So Clapway covers stories across the news spectrum, from space probes to dinosaurs, from rare species of giant snails to discussions on the psychological threat of nuclear disaster.
There’s a lot of content on the site written by an array of authors, with new articles going up daily, and it sells itself as a “source for quirky discoveries, tips, and news off the beaten path.”
It’s got the attention of plenty of users, with over 130,000 Facebook likes and more than 93,000 Twitter followers. That said, there seems to be an almost total lack of interaction with followers on Twitter – notably, there are very few retweets and favourites to speak of.
So what can mainstream publishers learn from Clapway? Most importantly in the travel writing genre, it succeeds in focusing on adventure and exploration while eschewing stereotypes. It’s inspirational without being clichéd, publishing niche features such as “My Asperger’s syndrome and the summer” and “Why woolly mammoths really went extinct”. It’s broad and mysterious, bizarre yet intriguing, and vitally, you want to click on it.
Media, innovation and start-ups will be at the heart of FIPP and VDZ’s Digital Innovators’ Summit (DIS), held in Berlin on 20-22 March in 2016. The DIS programme will feature top-notch innovators from around the world. Registration is now open.
Additional reporting by Sadie Hale.