Eyeballs as Portals to the Soul, not Sellable Objects

Posted on Jan 10, 2013 in Business, Highlight, Holocene | 1 comment

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As you might imagine if you read my last post, this week has been the week of The Holocene. Holy smokes, what an incredible week so far. And I just read an article that is the perfect complement to my week. Writer Rebecca Skloot tweeted a link to an interview the Guardian did with Maria Popova, the editor of Brain Pickings.

Many of the points Maria made are related to my reasons for wanting to create The Holocene with Corey and Brett. Like her response to a question about why she doesn’t run ads on her wildly popular website:

There’s a really beautiful letter that a newspaper journalist named Bruce Bliven wrote in 1923 to his editor. It was about how the circulation manager had taken over the newspaper, deciding what went on the front page. Today, search engine optimisation is the “circulation management” of the internet. It doesn’t put the reader’s best interests first – it turns them into a sellable eyeball, and sells that to advertisers. As soon as you begin to treat your stakeholder as a bargaining chip, you’re not interested in broadening their intellectual horizons or bettering their life. I don’t believe in this model of making people into currency. You become accountable to advertisers, rather than your reader.

Know what the bane of my existence was when I was a print magazine editor? Cover blurbs. I managed to maintain my self-esteem in the face of failing miserably at writing “effective” cover blurbs (as determined by the circulation department), mostly because I felt very secure in my abilities as an editor. I suck at that kind of marketing, and I’m okay with that.

But there are less superficial reasons why the quote above resonates with me. I don’t like that the word “harvest” is used when publishers talk about their readers’ email addresses. I don’t like that craft publications’ relationships with advertisers all too often result in editorial decisions. As a reader, I don’t like it when it becomes obvious that the people who make the publications I read don’t value me as a human being, but rather value me as a pair of eyeballs they can sell. I mean, who does?

I do firmly believe that The Holocene will be a product people will buy. We’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to bumble around a little; that’s the price we’ll pay for working with publishing, subscription, and distribution models that haven’t been fully tested yet. We’re going to test things out. We don’t want to wait a few years for other folks to figure it all out. We want to do this now.

And we want to do this now because we want to read this publication. We don’t want to wait any longer for it. We are, you see, DIYers. So we’re rolling up our sleeves and making something we’re eager to read, ourselves. And since we don’t think of ourselves as disembodied eyeballs, I hope you’ll trust that we won’t think of our other readers that way, either.

  • http://twitter.com/vashtirama vashti braha

    LOVE this quote. Thank you for this.