In the last two years I've been sending out a weekly update with articles from Conversation Agent and things that made me think from elsewhere. Some readers love it and provide feedback. But that might not be enough to sustain it over the long run.
When your publication doesn't reach a critical mass on feedback, if you see no sharing from the active group, then it might be time to retire it gracefully. As is often the case, when not enough people activate the silent majority decides.
The truth is that I haven't put enough effort into awareness and distribution. There are no annoying but effective pop up subscription boxed on this site, the link is not at the bottom of every post, just a small space on the sidebar. But these may be cosmetic issues if I'm missing the mark on the substance.
In the old world, a single individual (yes, it's only me producing content for Conversation Agent, since many ask) could not produce, publish, and distribute easily. Today we can. It's great, and it means that we're in some form or another all competing with each other for attention.
All serious writers are also serious readers
It won't be a shock to you that I read about a dozen or more emails from different organizations per week — news about different industries and business stages, smart thinking in economics and the sciences, and lifestyle publications.
It's a very diverse selection for tone, styles, and subject matters. I go beyond the headlines to studying what makes a story compelling and what makes a format engaging and marketable. This week, I took a slightly closer look at Skift, and its understanding of the travel industry.
The Hustle is a daily note I started reading recently upon recommendations by a couple of founders. Like Quartz Obsession daily I don't always read it. The Skimm is another I skim daily. What interest me are the format, flow, language, editorial choices, and as much as possible the integration with web properties.
For example, I noted how each story on The Hustle has a mini landing page# where you can subscribe. Also, if you follow the link, you'll note how they blend media and marketing, with appropriate disclosure. They're experimenting to see where to introduce sponsors. The voice is interesting. It may not appeal to you, but it's designed to provide a fresh take on news. On that count it succeeds.
The Skimm doesn't appeal as tone and voice, but I like their references to deep dives. Quartz Obsessions is very conversational, with quizzes, polls, and many ways to provide feedback. The most read stories become the obsession interlude in the main daily news email by Quartz.
The best emails are a way for a community to stay up to date. Behind many of the most interesting writing in my inbox is a community passionate about staying in touch and learning together.
Marketing and media are blending
Email is the most direct communication medium we have to connect with a creator. Rather than interrupting a story with all kinds of moving banners, pop up windows and videos in auto play, it's the ultimate personal channel.
Beyond niche publications where analysis is the product, emails with any kind of scale continue to blend marketing and media.
The first wave of letters, like Smart Brief, curated industry news. Publications for young professionals that are sprouting up now repackage the news to be more conversational. Social media and text messages have changed the language we use to write. they've also changed our number of inboxes.
Technology adoption has increased mobility and the number of formats at anyone's disposal to communicate with others. This has had an impact on the type and variety of messages people read — in our phones, friends and family compete with The New York Times. Conversational makes more sense.
Where do digital publications fit?
Fast Company has a story about Mel#, a lifestyle publication for men. It's a not sponsored content play associated with Dollar Shave (a Uniliver company). The company already has a separate digital content program, says the article.
It takes its inspiration from the mature lifestyle magazines for women that tackle more personal topics and questions. Stuff men think about, but that is not specifically manly. Which is interesting. But kind of like my blog, without a monetization strategy. Likely not sustainable in the long run.
A hint of what's to come in the future for Mel may be the move away from Medium as the publishing platform. We'll probably see an evolution in the direction of shoppable content next. One thing I agree with Dollar Shave CEO Dubin, “It’s really hard to build a thriving content team.”
Eventually, even ventures sponsored by corporate entities (as this blog used to be sponsored by my day job) need to show some results to continue to exist.
Remember P&G's Man of the House? It also bet on men, but was focused too much on content and too little on community engagement. Community building is the magic ingredient that sustains many successful emails and sites. Content alone doesn't do enough heavy lifting to sustain a publication.
Wherever is your line between marketing and media or media and marketing, without community you may have no joy.