Could music journalism be more profitable away from the web?

The Quietus - coverRecently you may have seen my post singing the praises of the new Quietus anthology, which might just be the finest compendium of music writing I’ve read in a few years now.

Since finishing it though, something about it has been playing on my mind. Perhaps not one thing; more a collection of realisations. In no particular order, these are:

1. I still don’t look at The Quietus website as much as I should – and I’m probably missing some good articles as a result.

2. I do all my leisurely reading via Kindle e-books, books and magazines. This is because I sit at a computer all day for my job; reading news & articles from one just doesn’t work from me. If I am reading from an online device, its my Nexus 7… but even then I tend to limit it to Kindle e-books because I want to focus and not get distracted by that “read for 2mins then surf on” behaviour that comes with websites.

3. The Quietus is, by their own admission, hardly raking in a ton of money from advertising – which, if I’m not mistaken, is their primary source of income as a business.

4. Something I loved about the Quietus’ anthology is that I enjoyed reading about artists or albums I wasn’t so familiar with every bit as much as those I was a huge fan of. Part of the reason for this was that I was reading these articles in an environment where I had the time (and lack of distractions) to really get into them. Had I been reading them on a website, there’s a pretty high chance I would – rightly or wrongly – have just moved on because when I’m browsing I’m immediately more ADHD about how long I spend on content.

Once upon a time there was only “online” or “offline”; the web as consumed on a desktop/laptop, or real life. Things have changed lately though; its more nuanced than that. Like many, I’m sat in front of a computer screen all day. Its not a device to read from. For one thing the screen is a 16:9 ratio ill-suited to reading because the human eye favours a narrower column of text. For another, when sites format themselves to said narrow margins, the rest of the screen still needs filling with something, which is where those adverts and recommendations of other articles all come in. The whole environment has to be calibrated to keeping you on-site and dishing up more ads. That’s not an accusation or criticism; more an observation of how the mechanics of making money from a website work.

But this is where the problem lies: for me, that whole environment is by design working against allowing someone to just sit and read, which in turn makes it utterly at odds with the core purpose of the website.

With all these points in mind, it occurred to me that I would gladly pay a monthly fee to get the month’s Quietus articles supplied as a Kindle book. The medium works so much better for me, because whilst the device you may be reading from could be online, you’re not subject to the various distractions of websites – all those banner ads, other articles being suggested etc. I favour a very pure reading experience: the words, maybe an accompanying photo or illustration, but basically nothing else. The rest is a distraction: all I want is the article – nothing more.

Of late we have seen a shift to more minimal websites that have sought to re-position quality content as the focal point of their service. Medium could be argued to be one case in point. Marco Arment’s Magazine iPad app is most definitely another. As yet though, I’ve not really seen the same happen with music websites.

Right now, countless Quietus articles go unread by me. Not deliberately; I just miss them because of where they are and how that jars with my consumption of quality writing. In the meantime, The Quietus and sites like it struggle with revenues. But would I pay something like £5 per month to get all the latest Quietus articles straight to my Kindle? Damn right I would.

Taking the logic on a step: what if The Quietus archived articles after a set period, then made them available as part of a subscription? This is something The New Yorker has done, and its a model a good few friends of mine seem to like. They get the latest edition digitally, but as part of their subscription also have access to the entire archive of articles.

To me, this multi-platform blend of free-to-access content with paid access to archives and digests feels like a more natural way to drive the most revenue at a time when websites running articles of any type are struggling. It plays well to the deeper, more quality-led journalism that people enjoy taking time to read, but critically also ensures that these amazing articles can be enjoyed in the right manner – ie without distraction.

2 thoughts on “Could music journalism be more profitable away from the web?

  1. Very thoughtful piece. What is certain right now, is that journalism online is doomed as an earning format. There are numerous very experienced and talented journalists who are scrapping at the margins trying to make ends meet, because everyone is now a writer (or ‘writer’, I think that should be). It’s something i’ve been pondering for a while: the viability of producing Kindle-friendly versions of writing at magazine prices. Don’t know whether it can work, but the alternative isn’t right now, that’s for sure.

  2. Thanks Bill.

    It feels like we’re entering a phase where the focus is moving back toward quality content over this churn of “first to the post” news and whatnot. The Medium platform and Arment’s Magazine app are two examples, but as Charles Ubaghs pointed out elsewhere, 29th Street are doing very well in allowing websites to port over to a subscription app model (Maura and The AWL being his two examples): My point really is that it feels like people are starting to return to the notion of quality over quantity, and if more tools emerge to allow those mid-level, maybe more niche sites like The Quietus to move to a multi-platform model without breaking the bank, then we’re all the better for it.

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