Adventures in Virtual Publishing
Want to save a bundle? Eliminate the office. No more rent, utilities, cleaning services, commuting and parking problems. Of course, you will be losing some camaraderie and creative sessions over lunch or coffee in the conference room. But, after that, what’s to lose?
The editor’s job is threefold. One, to be a fount of great ideas. Two, to nurture and recruit contributors for the magazine. And three, to edit and improve stories that come in short of the mark. All of these tasks can be done by phone or online. No office required. And while occasional meetings will always be necessary for certain editors or publications, technology is making it increasingly easy to e-mail or phone in the duties of the day.
Recently I helped launch M: The Magazine for Montessori Families. The business office is in Dallas. The publisher is in Toronto. The ad staff is in Minneapolis. The design director is in Florida and New York City. The art director is in Birmingham, Alabama. Contributors are from Princeton to Nashville to Bend, Oregon. The printer is in Wisconsin. The editor-in-chief (that would be moi) is in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
We have never met. Conference calls, certainly. E-mails, daily. I know several of the participants from past projects, but most of the group are voices on the phone to me. As we complete the first year of publication (five issues), we have been able to launch on a blitz schedule with a shoestring budget. We started last August, and our premier issue was out in January 2006. Because of the national scope of the magazine, and because of the far-flung location of the principals, it would have been difficult (and costly) to open an office, hire a staff, and turn out a magazine under what used to be considered normal conditions.
The Virtual Office Landscape
Elsewhere in virtual publishing there is Mark Nothaft, editor-in-chief at Stratos, an in-flight publication for private and charter aircraft distributed through executive aviation terminals. "I’m based in Phoenix, corporate offices are in Montgomery, Alabama, contributors are scattered from coast to coast and Europe," he says. "Technology brings us all together."
Or consider Rick Schumacher, publisher and editor of LBM Journal;a b-to-b for the lumber/building materials trade in Lakeville, Minnesota. Rick spent 13 years with an association trade book that filed Chapter 7 as the result of a lawsuit. He talked with former coworkers, asked if they’d be interested in joining him in the launch of a new industry magazine.
"The plan was for each of us to work from home temporarily, communicating by phone and e-mail, until I was able to secure sufficient funding to enable us to get office space. The hoped-for influx of working capital never happened, which turned out to be okay, because as time went on it became clear that working from home actually made much more sense for the magazine, and for nearly everyone who worked on it."
This July marks LBM Journal’s third birthday. "Had we ﾑgone traditional,’ and set up shop in an office, with desks, computers and employees, it’s very likely that we wouldn’t be here today," says Schumacher. Using the virtual model;with independent contractors instead of employees, and no central office space;LBM Journal managed to turn a small profit after year one. "We use broadband Internet services to keep us connected, and to keep materials flowing from our managing editor and our art director (Minneapolis), to our production director (suburban Minneapolis) and to our printer (Long Prairie, Minnesota). Our ad sales manager recently moved from California to Manhattan," says Schumacher. "It is seamless."
Moreover, because there was no big influx of capital, there is no debt. "No debt and in-house ownership means we control our own destiny," Shumacher adds. "The money we’re not dumping into office space and infrastructure is being plugged into reader and industry research, more aggressive magazine features, enhancing our Web site and improved design/production. Judging from growing enthusiasm from our readers, and steadily increasing ad revenues, the model is working."
Certainly the virtual publishing environment isn’t for everyone. It’s not for the change-averse. It’s not for technophobes. It’s not for people who don’t enjoy working alone. But it’s great for people not built for nine-to-five. It’s great for those who thrive on autonomy. And, of course, it’s ideal for virtuosos who like to work in their jammies.
John Brady is visiting professional at the Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University. He conducts editorial workshops for professionals and is a partner at Brady & Paul Communications, a publishing consultancy. For information on his Editor’s Tool Kit, e-mail him at Bradybrady@aol.com.