My colleagues in the publishing industry could learn some valuable lessons by observing an unlikely source of publishing wisdom: Moonlighting postal workers. After all, when it comes to web traffic, these “amateur” publishers are kicking a lot of professionals’ butts.
I follow four web sites about postal issues that are published by current or former U.S. Postal Service employees – not the kind of folks we usually consider to be part of the “real” publishing industry. And I follow a variety of web sites covering the magazine, catalog, printing, and paper industries – all produced by publishing professionals and most affiliated with a magazine.
From the data I can glean, the four postal sites -- postalnews.com, PostalReporter.com, Postal Employee Network, and PostalMag.com – typically get at least three to five times more web traffic than any of those professional B2B sites I follow. Postalnews had a recent month with more than 100,000 unique visitors, truly a lofty number for a one-person web site, according to Compete.com. I have my own data as well: Even though most Dead Tree Edition articles are not about postal issues, only Google rivals any of the four as a source of visitors to my blog.
Frankly, they're better than we are
Frankly, part of these amateurs’ success is that they usually do a better job of meeting the needs of their target audience than we “professional” publishers do.
The Web has given such “talented amateurs” the tools to undermine the traditional publishing industry, as I explore in my new article for Publishing Executive magazine, The Seven Habits of Highly Inefficient Publishers. No longer does freedom of the press apply only to those who have access to a printing press.
But these outsiders also show us what publishing can be like without the seven deadly habits that keep us chained to mindsets and business models that no longer work. (One hint: Stop equating “publishing” with “writing articles.” Another: The future of publishing lies not in creating the content people want but in providing them a gateway to the content they want.)
There must be a million or more people who work for the U.S. Postal Service, retired from it, or are otherwise intimately involved in it. Why didn’t any mainstream publishers – like maybe the Washington Post or Government Executive -- think of launching a product aimed at this market?
The Post probably couldn’t conceive of running such a business without spending well into six figures for reporters, an editor, etc. The concept of creating such a product primarily by providing links to articles and reports in other media is simply not in the DNA of the Post, or, for that matter, anyone else in the MSM (mainstream-media). Which makes me wonder what other hungry, potentially profitable audiences we’re overlooking because of our hidebound ways.
And for you self-righteous MSMers who complain about aggregators ripping off real publishers, take note: I have seen unique content from this blog rewritten or cited in several daily newspapers and in other name-brand publications without any attribution or link. A noted B2B magazine once took most of a Dead Tree Edition article, rewrote it only slightly, and published it under the byline of one of its own reporters. And When Barry Diller recently talked about the prospect of Newsweek cutting back on print, several major media outlets published quotations that were lifted from SeekingAlpha.com, without attribution rather than from the webcast itself. (Including SeekingAlpha's misquotes gave them away.)
But I have never seen the four postal web sites come close to violating anyone’s copyright or doing anything even remotely unfair (though they occasionally give me a public scolding when they disagree with Dead Tree Edition or spot an error). I can’t imagine any publisher complaining about the brief excerpts that appear on these sites – or about the thousand or more, sometimes many more, visitors that typically follow the link from such excerpts back to the source.
Practicing what I preach
So why don’t I practice what I preach and aggregate content from other sources? In the web ecosystem, some are meant to be aggregators and some to be aggregatees. With a blog that serves multiple interests (publishers, print buyers, printers, postal workers, environmentalists, paper makers, etc.), Dead Tree Edition is better off feeding the aggregators than competing with them.
But I am practicing what I preach in another way: The Publishing Executive article (which editor Jim Sturdivant says that some might call "crazy") mentions that corporations’ reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission are often a better source of news than their press releases. Two Dead Tree Edition articles this month -- Soft Market, Digital Investments Drag Time Inc. Down and Sartell Shutdown Will Cost Verso Dearly -- came from 10-Q reports that the MSM overlooked while focusing on the companies’ press releases.