The future of independent digital long form journalism and publishing looks a lot like its recent past, based on a SXSW panel discussion featuring editors at The Morning News, The Millions, and the Bygone Bureau: trying new things and hoping for the best. But the core mission remains publishing good content and creating a quality reading experience. The money will follow -- maybe.
C. Max Magee, founding editor of popular books and culture site The Millions, said that the key to growing his site has been to publish quality content. It's garnered him an audience large enough to monetize through ads. But as for revenue opportunities in other forms of publishing -- such as the Kindle single The Millions just published -- "the jury is still out," he said.
Andrew Womack, founding editor of The Morning News, had a similar e-book experience, having published three e-book originals -- two collections of previously published material and one original. None were "particularly successful," he said, though there was value in the experience.
"It changes the way you think about what you've done and what you're going to do," he said, particularly regarding old content as a potential revenue source. Easier said than done, though. "Everything you try will fail," Womack said, "except when it doesn't."
While Magee has no interest in trying out a subscription program ("We've gotten big because we've been very open and accessible," he said), both Womack and Kevin Nguyen, founding editor of The Bygone Bureau, see a lot of promise in new publishing platforms and subscription models. Digital newsstands are particularly appealing, Nguyen said, with decent money to be made from a small, dedicated audience paying a modest monthly subscription fee."You don't need to reach a huge paying audience to be successful," he said.
Both Nguyen and Womack are bullish on digital publishing consultants/app developer 29th Street Publishing, whose apps offer a high quality reading experience along with subscription revenue. "This is the answer to all of it," Womack said. "This panel will not be necessary next year."
Which, if true, would elminate the one thing that's certain about the future of publishing: that there will always be panels about the future of publishing.