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Are you sure that this is a good idea?

COW Library : Business & Marketing : Tim Wilson : Are you sure that this is a good idea?
CreativeCOW presents Are you sure that this is a good idea? -- Business & Marketing Editorial


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That's what people asked in 1995, when Ronald Lindeboom and his wife Kathlyn started the first online community for media professionals. The internet was new enough that many companies had little more than a "home page." As AOL and email lists jostled for position at the head of the pack, the Lindebooms made a choice that made the difference: they put individual leaders in the spotlight of the forums, with their pictures at the top of each forum page, and links to their complete profiles. The focus was quite literally on the leaders -- not on the founders -- and didn't feature only the products and technologies that were their expertise.

"Are you sure that this is a good idea?" is also what I asked in 2005, when Ronald told me about their plans to launch a print magazine. I followed it with my own answer, "Because I'm not sure that it is." After all, the exodus from print to the web was well underway by then, and CreativeCOW.net was already on its way to over a million-and-a-half monthly visitors. You already know the punchline: when I came to work at the COW in 2006, this is where I landed, as Editor-in-Chief of Creative COW Magazine.

When we started, we mostly knew what we didn't want to do: the tutorials and reviews that were the hallmark of other magazines. Why bother? We already had literally thousands of them online. Instead, we made the same choice that had made such a difference online: focus on people. In fact, we've asked over 120 of them to tell us their stories since we started. Most have never written anything for public consumption before, but their expertise and their passion spring off the page. Maybe if we were smart enough or experienced enough, we could come up with another way to make magazines. But no, this springs out of our passion too, with enough of our own experience working in broadcast and film to feel what makes a good story -- and enough experience in print to make it all work.

Which brings us to this issue of the magazine. Along with a few new pieces, we're going to revisit some of the people and their stories that have gotten the greatest response in our first few years. We didn't include any of the ones from the past year, though. It was just too soon, and didn't tie in with the very practical purpose for this issue: our subscribers have multiplied so quickly that a bunch of these people and their great stories have still not been seen by the majority of our subscribers. If you've been with us from the beginning, we promise that it will all read fresh. We've re-edited pieces to include words and pictures that we couldn't fit the first time around, and have joined them with other stories to show the evolution of these conversations. Even so, we've only been able to fit in around a dozen authors and their stories, less than a tenth of the total so far.

The fact is that we may have made this look too easy -- our authors backed by just a couple of fellas in their pajamas, and voila! A successful magazine! Yet in the five years we've been doing this, four magazines have stopped printing. Two have even folded up their websites - they're just plain gone. When people ask us how we're still growing in this environment, we joke, "The secret to print success is making a magazine that people want to read."

It's more than a joke. Traditional publishers are in the business of putting ink on dead trees. They have presses and a corporate culture built around magazines, rather than the content in the magazines.

If they didn't have this industry to cover, they'd be covering medical waste, alcoholic beverages, consumer electronics, fire chiefs and hot tub installation. In fact, as you look at the parent companies of other magazines in our space, this is exactly what they are covering. These are the kinds of magazines that remain after those parent companies stop printing their broadcast and film-related publications, one after another. It's not about this industry for them. It's about paper and ink.

Don't get me wrong. We're big fans of ways to get rid of medical waste, support fire chiefs, drinking and hot tubs. But we're not making magazines because "that's what we do." We're making magazines because we have stories to tell in broadcast, film and related fields. More precisely, we have authors with inspiring and intriguing stories that we want to help them tell.

Of course, the reason we succeed above the others is that you keep reading. We welcome your continued guidance, and we appreciate your support more than we can ever express.




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