Parent company Conde Nast may still think the web is not that important, but The New Yorker does.
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The 87-year-old magazine decided to make a "big investment" in its website six to eight months ago, Nicholas Thompson, editor of newyorker.com, says. The web team was expanded to 12 full-time employees, including Thompson, who was named editor in March after working "on the magazine side" as a senior features editor for two years. Editor-in-chief David Remnick thought he would be a good fit for the website in part because he had a background in technology coverage, having spent five years as a senior editor at Wired, Thompson says.
Within the last year, newyorker.com has streamlined its navigation and launched a politics vertical, a "healthcare hub" and Page-Turner, a blog for literary criticism. The latest addition, Jonah Lerer's Frontal Cortex blog, was imported from sister website wired.com earlier this week.
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Traffic has grown as a result. The website brought in 5 million unique visitors in May, up "about 50% from last year," says Thompson, who pulled the numbers from Omniture. Between 12 and 15 pieces of original content are posted per day on average. About a quarter to a third of the magazine's content is made available freely on the website each week.
There have also been efforts to boost traction on social networks. The publication offered access to a Jonathan Franzen story in exchange for Facebook Likes in April 2011. Its Tumblr, one of the first to be launched by a major media brand, is updated several times per day during the week. More recently, the magazine tweeted a short sequel to Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, through 140-character installments on Twitter.
Why the Web? Why Now?
The New Yorker has attracted a great deal of attention for the confidence with which it has approached mobile platforms. The title released its first issue for the iPad in October 2010, less than six months after the device went on sale in the U.S. (Conde Nast-owned Vogue, by comparison, was released only this February.) The magazine was available on the Kindle Fire the day the tablet launched.
The magazine has clearly invested in its tablet editions. They are full of thoughtful touches: covers painted on the iPad, embedded audio interviews, animated cartoons. The magazine's rather minimalist, text-centric aesthetic has translated beautifully to tablet devices.
With so much happening with mobile, one wonders: Why is the New Yorker investing in the web now? Comparatively, the web is not a shiny new thing, ripe for transformation. User adoption is not accelerating at the same rate.
"We want people to be able to read and subscribe the New Yorker on every device we can -- the iPad, Kindle, Nook, iGlasses, their watch, wherever people like to read," says Thompson. "There was a sense we hadn't committed to the web as we had to the iPad, and we wanted to be as strong on the web as we are on other platforms." He adds that from a business perspective, the website exists as a vehicle for advertising and subscription revenue.
I asked Thompson how the New Yorker thought about content for the web, compared to the magazine. "Everything on the website is edited, but it has to go at a much faster pace -- it's much more time-dependent, we need to respond immediately," he replied, noting that content for the website is not exhaustively fact-checked like the magazine. "Some things are better and some things are worse. A beautiful sense of storytelling, literary sensibility, writing style -- those are the things we want to take to the web as best we can."
Throughout the conversation, I got the sense that traffic wasn't that important to Thompson and the New Yorker as a whole. The team wasn't launching an aggregator or building out its tech coverage -- two things The Atlantic did in its pursuit of a larger audience. Instead, it was beefing up its lit crit blog.
"We want to build out areas where we think we have expertise, where we think we have people with particular talents," Thompson says. "Traffic is one measure [of success], subscriptions are another measure, but the success of the website is really measured in the response of our core readers."
"Success is when someone says, 'I just feel great about coming to the website, I'm going to find things I love,' or, 'I haven't read the magazine before, that's interesting, let me subscribe.'"
What's next? Thompson says he and his team will continue to build out more verticals, add writers and launch new blogs through the summer and fall. He is also dedicating his attention to a number of "technical choices": how to best serve people related links, how to deal with commenting, how to optimize for passive sharing.
And how involved will editor-in-chief David Remnick be in the process?
"The website is a majority priority for him right now, if the amount of emails I get at 6 a.m. or midnight is anything to go by," Thompson says, laughing.
Image courtesy of Flickr, ptwo
This story originally published on Mashable here.