I had a brief exchange on Twitter with Sloan Eddleston, COO of The New Republic yesterday. I retweeted a story from Forbes that said The New Republic was having its reporters sell subscriptions and added a rather cursory, “Oh My”.
Sloan immediately called me on it in the tweet below.
@Flipping_Pages why wouldn’t we? Our reporters are amazing and our best assets. Their friends and family can further catapult our growth
— Sloan Eddleston (@eddlest) October 16, 2013
To be fair to me (and I always try to be) I was reading on my phone during a break in a training session and I didn’t get much beyond the headline. To be fair to The New Republic, the headline doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
- TNR asked journalists to sell subscriptions as part of an “intra-office” competition, a bit of fun.
- No one was made to do it.
- Friends and family were offered “highly-discounted” subscriptions.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I believe firmly in bringing journalists and editors into the commercial life of their publications. Too many content people live in a cash-free reality where it really does come as a surprise when they find out that ad revenues are flat and subscription revenues shrinking. But being involved in the commercial life of a publication is different from actually selling. As Jeff Bercovici, the author of the Forbes piece says,
Journalists are in the business of asking uncomfortable questions, but asking people to get out their wallets is a special breed of awkward. You could even argue that it pokes a hole in the traditional wall that’s supposed to separate editorial processes from business operations.
The “Oh My” response wasn’t really about TNR – reading the piece properly, it’s obvious this is not a major commercial strategy for the magazine, which has already grown its subscriber base 40% since Facebook-alum Chris Hughes bought it last year. My reaction came from being all too ready to believe that journalists had been asked to add one more thing to their to do lists. I found it easy to believe that this was one more example of a publisher squeezing another ounce of ‘value’ from their content team because the content they create isn’t quite enough.
It used to be that writing stories was a full-time job. As storytelling moved beyond print and embraced multimedia it made sense to expand the remit to include some photography, some video and lots of social media. I have no issue with that. I don’t even mind content people being brought in to the native advertising space to help create content for clients if the process is well managed. Where I have a problem is when the content creation process and the skills that it demands gets swallowed up by busy work that content people add no value to and other people are probably better at.
Apologies to the team at TNR; I applaud your good-humoured, entrepreneurial team-building exercise. But to be fair to me (again) can you blame me for believing that some publisher, somewhere was really serious about having its reporters sell subscriptions?