As more publishers look to infuse social networking and other UGC elements with their traditional editorial models, GOOD may serve as a reminder of the importance of keeping focused on the core product.
The company is relaunching its magazine Monday as part of a larger, ongoing plan to reconnect with its audience after years of pursuing a community model hadn't worked out the way they'd thought it would.
GOOD, the magazine “for people who give a damn,” was early to the platisher track. The company let go of two-thirds of its editorial staff (and watched a few others walk) in mid-2012 as part of a tactical shift that, its leaders emphasized, wasn’t financially driven.
The goal? Turn the title into a social network, of sorts. “They wanted to be a reddit for social good,” one of the departing staffers said at the time.
“Through the years, we were really inventive and willing to adapt and try new things, and that kept the magazine going for quite awhile,” says Casey Caplowe, co-founder of GOOD. “But last year, we realized that we wanted to make some bigger strategic changes on the media side, in particular. On our website, we had gone in the direction of a social network and ultimately felt it wasn’t doing everything we wanted. The business was doing alright, and continues to do well and grow, but we weren’t getting the traction we’d hoped for with the community, social network side. Quite frankly, we’d lost the footing to create free media.”
To get it back, they’re refocusing on editorial.
The company relaunched its website last summer with an emphasis on its own media, and has been staffing up accordingly since. Caplowe says they’ve added at least five permanent editors and writers, and have bulked up on the audience development side as well.
They’ve also invested in print. The redesigned quarterly magazine hits newsstands today after a yearlong hiatus. It’s a substantial read, with 132 pages (including 123 of editorial) of heavier stock paper. The redesign process took about six months, Caplowe says, ramping up following the site relaunch last summer.
Like several magazines that have gotten out of the rate-base race, that high edit-to-advertisement ratio will be offset by a premium price point. GOOD will be $14 per copy or $40 for an annual subscription (it had been $7.95/$25.00 before) with a smaller rate base of 125,000.
“There’s much more clarity around how we’re running the business now. In prior years, [the magazine] became an extension of what we were doing online instead of its own business. Now, we’re thinking about the model there in a more strategic way,” Caplowe says. “We’re structuring this incarnation of GOOD to be more reliant on subscribers, first and foremost, and to a lesser extent, single copy sales. We’re upscaling the product to connect with readers in a different way where it almost fits into that bookazine category.”
So Far, So Good
The print reviews are still to come, but early returns on the company’s renewed commitment to editorial have been positive, Caplowe says. The site drew 1.5 million unique visitors in January—more than three times the visitors from the same period last year, and on par with traffic before the pivot in 2012, per Quantcast.
While the numbers validate the decision to reinvest in edit, Caplowe says arriving at that conclusion wasn’t simple or easy. The platform strategy was something the company deeply believed in, and despite harsh knocks from media critics about the way the move was handled, it got a lot of early traction among GOOD’s audience.
“When we jumped into the platform work, it wasn’t an attempt to shun traditional editorial—we actually thought we might be able to do it all,” Caplowe says. “We had created an environment that attempted to blend editorial and community, and though I still believe that’s a valid idea, we didn’t execute on it well enough and it ultimately became confusing. The structure we set up for ourselves was making it harder than we thought it would be, so we ended up doing less of it. And in doing less, we recognized that it was something people missed from us.”
With a new staff, a new site, a new magazine and a renewed focus, GOOD is on its way to clearing up whatever confusion it created.