Editing for the Outer Circle of Readers
Editors usually position a book for longtime readers who are veterans in the field. I call this audience the inner circle. These are the readers an editor knows best because the demo is based upon research and a reader profile in the media kit.
But a magazine's growth ring is the outer circle (OC), that slim audience of newcomers to the trade and to the publication. The careful editor will bond with them early on, for a magazine grows only by inviting members into its ranks from the outer circle.
Not that there's anything wrong with the inner circle, mind you. But when you position your magazine exclusively for the old gang, editorial often consists of looking backward too much, doing the same old stories on the same old topics, often with the same old sources. And while speaking to the converted may give you a sense of achievement, remember that the choir is growing old. Many are dying off, quite literally.
The OC typically consists of newcomers to the publication, readers who are likely to be younger in terms of age or experience in the field. The are four key tactics to consider when stepping into the outer circle.
1. Know Your Reader. As the saying goes, seek first to understand, then to be understood. The more interactive you are with the OC, the more you will know how to begin with an end in mind. Call a few new readers each week for six months. A pattern of interests and enthusiasms will develop and be part of your editorial planning. Use the Web to conduct continuous checks on new readers and how you are progressing with the OC.
2. Change Often. The OC likes change on a regular basis. Time was when a magazine's design was good for five to seven years. No more. My firm has found that after two or three years, a young reader wants to look at something different. Be proactive. Embrace change and the power of new technologies.
3. Be Accessible. You must always remain informative and accessible. Be a solution to the information glut, not a part of it. The OC likes online and Web site access. This means putting the Web site address on the cover, in the folio line of each page, and linking stories to the Web for supplementary information and fast-breaking news.
The OC likes interactivity. Readers should be able to use the site to ask a question of an editor or writer. The editors should be available to discuss key issues online. Issues may even be put to a vote on the site, with results tabulated in the pages of the magazine. You may also want to turn key departments into service-oriented centers on the site. A problem-solving column, for instance, could be turned into an information center on the site.
4. Give Guidance. The OC likes choice, but so many choices, so little time. They need guidance and want you to help them do the shopping, or at least the narrowing down. Before Amazon.com launched its online musical retail site a few years ago, the firm asked its 2.2 million customers to describe their dream music store. Overwhelmingly, some 25,000 responses said they wanted to be told what to buy.
Thus, in the information age, OC readers want to be told what is news, what is worthy of their attention. They want information that is processed, not just dropped into place. We must not forget that the reason that readers go to magazines is because they are edited, not written.
The new, OC-positioned book is going to be the topic of wide discussion in competing circles. It will create new opportunities for circulation, where even old lists should be tested for response to the new editorial attitude. Advertising should share in the excitement, telling ongoing advertisers and prospects what is happening.
Meantime, what happens back in the inner circle? In my experience, most of the old gang will go along with a program aimed at bringing younger readers into the book. They love what they do and recognize that times are changing and this is part of passing the torch.
Of course, a handful will hate you for it. Hang in. Change will anger some readers, so you are damned if you do;but doomed if you don't.
John Brady, former editor-in-chief at Boston Magazine and Writer's Digest, and founding editor of The Artist's Magazine, is partner at Brady & Paul Communications and professional in residence at the Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University. He can be reached at Bradybrady@aol.com .