Monday, 13 May 2013

New ways to make writing and journalism pay

Let me say immediately that the examples I've quoted below are not drawn from my own research. I'm merely providing a synopsis of a very good booklet Help Yourself by Tim Dawson and Alex Klaushofer which was commissioned by and available from an organisation of which I am a member, The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). Also, as this is a UK body, the examples are mostly from the UK, though I would very much like to hear about other examples from around the world.

The authors note how the move to digital content is transforming the worlds of publishing and journalism but rather than simply bemoan the loss of traditional markets they show by these examples how some have seen the revolution as an opportunity to find new ways of making their writing pay, or at least move into a position where there could be a paying proposition in the near future.

The Blizzard  A pay-what-you-like football quarterly available in print or electronically. Launched in May 2011 by editor and co-owner Jonathan Wilson, this is a publication for the 'thinking fan', running articles of up to 13,000 words on the state of football (soccer) throughout the world. The USP is that readers can opt to pay a quarterly subscription of as little as a penny, plus post and packing for the print edition, though the recommended price is £12. The digital edition is available at £3 per quarter. Contributors, some of whom are well-known sports journalists, are paid (admittedly below the traditional market rate) and the magazine has already built enough of a committed readership prepared to pay enough to make the venture profitable. Almost all of the marketing is done through social media.

Bike To Work An ebook funded by advertising. Carlton Reid, a former editor and publisher of trade cycling magazine BikeBiz, persuaded enough advertisers to invest in his new idea to create a full colour 112-page magazine for those who bike to work or want to, and to offer it for free. By 2012 Reid's book had ben downloaded 350,000 times and generated more than £25,000 in advertising revenue. In the same vein, Reid is now completing Roads Are Not Built For Cars, which will be available in the summer of 2013. 

Disability News Service John Pring is the founder editor of this small subscription news agency which serves the disability sector. Subscribers pay up to £350 each month for a batch of news stories Pring researches, writes and delivers every Friday. Clients have a non-exclusive right to use their stories on their websites and in their printed publications. Started in April 2009, the business was slow to get off the ground but now has twenty regular subscribers, generating revenues of £18,000-£20,000 a year.

The Ambler A grant-funded community newspaper and daily updated website. The paper is produced by the Amble Development Trust with the aim of revitalising this Northumberland village as its traditional coal mining and fishing industries have declined or disappeared. It also provides a community forum and volunteering opportunities - indeed most of the stories are written by volunteers. Every house and business in Amble and beyond receive a copy of The Ambler free. The print costs of £1,200 per issue are met by advertising while the business is underpinned by funding agencies such as the Sir James Knott Trust and the local council. A similar venture in South Wales, the Port Talbot MagNet is currently sustained by a research grant from the Media Standards Trust. Another is Filton Voice, described as a sustainable hyperlocal magazine for a well-defined area of Bristol - the key to succes here is in offering affordable advertising for the opportunity to get right into one particular neighbourhood, supported by good editorial content relevant to the target audience.

Guido Fawkes At the other end of the scale to community newspapers is the Guido Fawkes website, a mix of insider gossip and invective about the political class which has been published by Paul Staines since 2004. His site attracts more than two million visitors a month and generates average monthly advertising revenue in excess of £4,000. He makes roughly the same again selling stories to the print media and from his regular column in the Daily Star. Staines says himself, "I don't know anyone else who is making proper money from blogs - by which I mean six figures or more."

Kindle Singles Amazon's Kindle Singles format is intended to bridge the gap between magazine articles, which are rarely over 5,000 words long, and books, which are generally upward of 60,000 words. 'Compelling ideas expressed at their natural length' is the tagline Amazon uses, and there is clearly a market as over two million Singles have been sold since their launch in January 2011. This could be the model for long-form journalism in the future, though in the UK currently the most successful Singles authors have been writers of fiction, including Kerry Wilson, a debut novelist from Lancashire whose novel Locked In has notched up sales of several hundreds of thousands since its publication as a Kindle Single in 2011. 

How To Play Bass Making use of YouTube, Paul Wolfe's online subscription bass guitar tutorial is making more than £70,000 a year, and growing. Wolfe is systematic about choosing which video clips to record and upload by first checking with people in his target profile what their 'pain points' are (specific needs they are struggling to fulfil), secondly searching on YouTube himself to see if those needs are met by others and, if not, devising videos to address those specific points. He also sells clients additional bass guitar-related courses and materials from his website. "YouTube is a fantastically powerful way to drive an audience to your site," Wolfe says.

Skulls Published first as an enhanced ebook and only later followed by a lavish print edition, Simon Winchester's Skulls, published by Touchpress, proves that digital and physical book can be  mutually complementary, each cross-fertilising the sales of the other. The enhanced edition features over 300 animal and human skulls which are rotatable at the touch of an iPad. The images are accompanied by essays read by Winchester, an interview with the skull collector Adam Dudley and other features such as the option to view the skulls in 3D. The print edition, published nearly a year later than the ebook in October 2012, builds on the back of the success of the many-times downloaded app.

Sail Racing Magazine Launched in January 2011, Sail Racing may be the first back-bderoom iPad magazine. Within eighteen months Justin Chisholm's app had been downloaded 85,000 times and hundreds of new readers are being added every week. Chisholm, a freelance writer for a decade before he started this new project, began with £10,000 capital and relied mainly on word of mouth to build his readership, although he did undertake some advertising on Facebook and is a keen user of social media to get his marketing message across. Beating many of the established sailing titles into the app store, he was able to attract some big brand advertising - now those titles are trying desperately to catch up.

Beststory This Canadian-based news site offers premium journalism with no advertising. Feature-length stories, which range from 1,500 to 12,000-plus words, cover a broad range of social, political and cultural affairs, all exclusive to the site, and offered to readers on a pay-as-you-go basis. The driving idea of founder Warren Perley is to educate readers about the need to pay for good writing. Subscription costs are modest - following a free teaser, readers pay a fee of 40 cents to access the full story. There are three packages available: the lowest a bundle of three stories at $1.20 and the highest $10 worth of articles. Contributors earn a royalty of around 25%, with copyright protected by digital locks on the full-length stories.

Do you know of any more good examples of new ways to make writing and journalism pay? If so, leave a comment and point us in the right direction.

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