The death of journalism be damned.
In the past year, you’ve spent hours (maybe even days) reading long form journalism, probably more than ever before.
The reason is a combination of factors. For one, there is a steady supply of great stories. The outlets may be changing, moving ever toward the internet, but the quantity is more than ever.
The second reason, however, is more important: finding the stories is simpler.
Max Linsky (right), who co-founded Long Form along with Aaron Lammer (below via) in April 2010, has watched the explosion firsthand.
“We feel like there’s a fundamental service that we provide that has demonstrated value. We link to four or five really good stories a day that we read from beginning to end,” he told The Wire over Red Stripes in a Chinatown bar.
The audience is there and continues to build. After an initial phase fits and starts, Long Form is “growing in that beautiful way where you don’t even know why it’s growing.” A link from Long Form can send thousands of “incredibly engaged” readers to the story.
The trick now is to make the project pay. Linsky, whose more recently was an editor-at-large at Participant Media’s Takepart.com, insists that he and Lammer are less focused on making money than others in the long form game — and he genuinely sounds focused on keeping the service useful and genuine — but they are developing a business model. Both co-founders recently gave up their full-time jobs to focus on the venture. (They continue working part time to pay the bills.)
Linsky hopes the plan works, but does not expect Long Form to adopt a similar tactic.
“My personal feeling is that a model of altruism is not sustainable for a link-based website. It’s one thing for NPR, where they can get in your car radio for a week and scream at you, but I’m not particularly interested in altruism as a business model,” he said, an observation that is as depressingly true as it is wonderfully articulate.
Long Form is exploring different avenues. They are on NPR’s ad network, which brings in some revenue. They started weekly sponsorship deals with magazines, first N+1 and this week with a New Republic piece called “The Great Democracy Meltdown.” The article sits at the top of LongForm.org for the week with a special offer to subscribe to TNR. It is early in the sponsorship process, but early signs are positive.
There is also an iPad app in the works that gives access to last 20 non-paywalled stories from between 30 and 40 different magazines.
And then there are the spinoff sites. Sportsfeat.com launched the last week in April and already has more than 1,000 Twitter followers. There are plans to expand into other verticals, recruiting experts in the various fields to curate the content.
Adding new sites is relatively simple because Lammer, who built the site in a weekend, developed an easy-to-use CMS that is very good at doing one thing: posting links to great content.
You can almost see it: An entire fleet of sites helping to organise the long form ocean.
Finding the stories, it turns out, is the easiest part of the whole endeavour.
“If something is 3,000 words on the internet, it’s probably good. No one spend the time to put 3,000 words on the internet if it isn’t good. It’s not like it’s a hard thing to curate,” Linsky said. “You know what’s bad, but once you get above bad, it’s all pretty good. It’s just whether it’s really good. When you get the delivery method right and you get the experience right, the content sings.”
If you link it, they will read.