Do you know what the word magazine means? Something in print and glossy? The pinnacle of publishing? Is it a weekly gossip rag or a Scandinavian photography journal that jumps to mind? Magazines have always seemed to sit awkwardly online. Can you put a magazine online? Is is the same? I wanted to explore what the essence of magazine publishing is because I think there are some lessons for content marketing.
The internet doesn’t really think of blogs as magazines. Many assume that magazines and digital have a fraught relationship. Good bloggers should be thinking like magazine editors. Content marketing should be more like kazana: a place where value is stored and interests are satisfied.
Kazana is an Arabic word meaning to store up and makzan meaning “storehouse” derives from it. Makazan is the root for magazine and the first recorded English use of magazine meant a place to store goods; the Oxford English Dictionary dates this record to 1583. Although that sense of the word is now rare, we can think of this meaning in practice as a storehouse or a repository. The word magazine’s relation to ammunition store obviously evolves from this sense.
By 1639, magazine was used to describe a book for a ‘specialist group’. This sense suggests the magazine is viewed more figuratively as a repository of value rather than a physical space. In 1731, The Gentleman’s magazine (sic) was first published which opens up the contemporary definition for magazine: ‘a periodical publication… prepared for a special-interest readership’. Kazana is about the practice of storing up value for that specialist readership. In short, kazana —the essence of magazine publishing— is where the future of content marketing lies
But what does this Arabic word have to do with content marketing?
Earlier this month Basecamp launched The Distance which describes itself as a magazine although I doubt they have any intention of taking it to print. The first issue profiles the Horween Leather Company and the resulting webpage sets a high standard in terms of the writing, the editorial and the presentation. I started exploring the roots of magazine after being utterly blown away by the content and thinking about why Bascamp was launching a magazine.
The business magazine about businesses that haven’t gone out of business.
That maxim from their Twitter bio really piques your interest ; it’s surprisingly unique when you think about what “regular” business magazines write about. The message also communicates the company’s own aspirations of longevity and their desire to help the companies who want to stick around. In 2014, the investment in long form is only going to grow. For readers and creators, this is a good thing. If kazana teaches us anything, it’s that the alternative to long term value creation is irrelevance.
Blogs that don’t go out of business
Aspiring to be a magazine focuses the editorial on in-depth and original content. The ideal of kazana is to create this repository of value tied closely to your readership rather than a timestamp. Magazines write about the things that everyone else isn’t writing about. The Distance finds itself independent from Basecamp’s own long running blog precisely to give it this autonomy.
Kazana is exactly what successful content marketing needs to do —storing up value for the future. Pop into any fashionable newsagent or bookshop and you’ll find it stocked full of immaculately produced thick magazines with stunning typography, photography and good writing. The craft that goes into producing these hundreds of pages is substantial and they are priced accordingly but that’s not really the point.
I’d much rather work with someone who says, ‘what have you got that’s expensive… but worth it?’ Not because that person is about to pay money, but because that person is focused on ‘worth it’.
—Seth Godin, ‘Gripped in a free frenzy’
In content creation, never has ‘worth it’ been more important. Between The Distance, Intercom hiring a self-professed ‘newspaper guy’ for their blog to the Buffer cult of the content crafter, it can seem like every startup should spin out into publishing. The effort these teams are putting into producing writing is simply unprecedented for software companies.
I’m telling you Geoff, the future is in publishing!
If you go to the effort of publishing a real print magazine —and taking on the financial risk—, you’re confident that you have something new to offer the world. You’re going to be original and lead your readers to think about things in a way they didn’t before. It’s simple but this is what writing should always do. If software companies take this kazana attitude seriously; if they focus content solely on generating value not revenue then there would be a lot more captivating and compelling reading to do.
Shooting for the magazine is the attitude that blogs need to win in 2014 and beyond. Writing for the long run is the only way to create meaningful work that sticks around.