The frustratingly meager state of local publishing

There’s a vicious circle that plagues a handful of local publications: You start a new publication with little money and few supporters. First, you ask for free or donated content. The free or donated content is placed under the publication’s name. The publication uses this free or donated content to sell advertising space.

(Full disclosure. I was once one of these free/donated content providers; I wrote a book column for a now defunct men’s magazine.)

The problem: the advertising space is hard to sell because the free or donated content isn’t the same quality you’d find in a publication that pays for its content. You get a lot of first-time columnists. You get a lot of basement designers. You get a laxness of deadlines, and editors who aren’t paying attention to details.

It looks rough. And more advertisers hold back.

Simply put, the better writers will hold out for the paycheck. And until a magazine can pay for quality content, they won’t get the better writers. But they can’t afford the better writers without – you guessed it! – the advertising dollars.

Maybe you can find people who are willing to help out – who are willing to offer services at a reduced rate, or a rate based on publication numbers. Maybe you can find a collective who are more focused on putting out great content, regardless of the advertising costs involved. Maybe you have to take out a loan in the beginning and pay quality writers in the beginning, hoping you’ll break even eventually.

Until then, though, you have a handful of publications, sitting on racks across the city, that pale when looked at critically. They’re frustratingly meager, living down to their promise.

How do you get good content without breaking the bank? Good question. I’ve got no idea, which is why I’m not a publisher.

But someone’s got to have the answer. I mean, content’s still king, people.

Or did I miss the memo that said otherwise?

This was lovingly handwritten on October 1st, 2009