Content has changed a lot since 2004.
When I started AT Media I wrote pretty medium interesting things (throw in bad grammar which I still have) with awful photos and got away with it only because my voice was original and unfiltered AND there wasn’t much else going on the web. I was a relatively loud voice in a relatively empty room. That is no longer the case.
Poor writing has become a sign of not trying hard enough or being stupid, and sharp writing stands out. Great photographs stand out. Great videos stand out. With all the pressure on people’s attention, you have to be the best in your field or risk losing your audience.
As we’ve grown over the past ten years we’ve consciously reduced the amount of posting and focused on better ideas, better writing and better pictures. We publish a lot less now than five years ago and nothing goes on the sites if it hasn’t been edited by another set of eyes. My hat’s off to Janel and Faith here for really pushing on this when I wasn’t always so convinced.
Readers have come to expect this and comments will be disparaging if something is not up to snuff. While we still do offbeat, quirky and personal stuff, we do it consciously and not necessarily expecting it will gain any attention. It’s essential to experiment, but we measure and judge our posts more and more. Anything that doesn’t earn its keep eventually will be cut so that we can make room for something new.
This has raised the level of our content tremendously, but there’s more we have to do here.
Sites that once were popular can die from not expanding their coverage and building on their perspective as a voice and not just a subject. If you are too niche or too mono-subject, you will slowly die over time (unless you aspire to a luxury category). A blog that is written by one person with their one perspective will die. A blog that is only about small spaces or home cooking in a certain style will die.
You start to see this when your audience graph moves sideways instead of upwards. Take a look at BoingBoing, Design Sponge or Gothamist: all great sites that haven’t really grown and seem less relevant every day.
Media isn’t about a subject, it’s about a sensibility and a perspective on the world – that is then extended to other areas of life. We have one but we have yet to break through successfully and grow a greater variety of content on either site in our own voice.
We’ve talked about expanding both sites as “lifestyle” sites last year and introduced a few new areas of content and we will be rolling out some bolder experiments in the next six months. Some of our experiments our readers will accept and some they won’t, but we’ll have to push them to get past the point of fighting change for change’s sake, and we have to figure out what they want in the process.
What is the goal here?
The goal is to make both sites destinations that bring people back time and time again, and avoid being solely dependent on house tours and recipes. The goal is to embrace and push our perspective so that we can talk about anything and bring our perspective to it.
Yesterday I found myself reading a really good article on the USA world cup match on the Business Insider. Last month I read a phenomenal article about a nuclear aircraft carrier in The New Yorker. Last night I was checking out cool grilling accessories in Garden & Gun. Better Homes & Gardens has seven monthly sections to encompass their reader’s passions:
It’s all about how you view the world. We won’t expand to all of these categories (especially with two sites already) but both of our sites started as subjects, and we need to keep moving on.
One sees the world through the eyes of design, beauty and the interaction that comes from finding and building a home in the world, and the other sees the world through the lens of all the interaction, taste and community that stems from the world of food. Both are bent on helping people to improve their lives, are youthful, upbeat, optimistic and ready to roll up their sleeves and do it themselves if needs be.
Both of them are new voices of their generation.
Moving into new areas is going to be challenging and feel risky at first, so hold onto your seats, but I can’t wait to see what comes out of it.
Next let’s look at advertising.