Why Long-Form Publishing Isn’t Dead

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If you believe there’s a place for long form journalism on your trade publication website or digital newspaper, you’re probably right.

The traditional outlets for long-form writing-works of 5,000 words or more-are trade publications, journals, and magazines. Many such publications made the transition to print as the conventional wisdom took hold saying that online pieces had to be short and digestible. No one wanted to read long form journalism in a browser, and they certainly didn’t want to pay for it.

Desktop environments aren't great for long form consumption, but mobile devices are.
Desktop environments aren’t great for long form consumption, but mobile devices are.

But then things started changing. Apps like Instapaper and the ascent of mobile devices arrived in the hands of people who loved long form journalism. The ”problem” with long form writing wasn’t that nobody wanted to read it. The problem was that people who craved long form content didn’t have the tools for reading it.

SEE ALSO: How to Build Your Content Across Platforms

And then they did. If you believe there’s a place for long form journalism on your trade publication website or digital newspaper, you’re probably right. In fact, long form content may be the perfect adjunct to revenue development efforts like sponsored content and white label job boards.

What Is Long Form Journalism?

There’s no hard and fast word count for long form journalism. It’s longer than a typical article and shorter than a novel. In the age of print media, long form stories were found in publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Rolling Stone. The web versions of these publications include long form pieces, and they have been very successful, and even gone viral in some cases.

Why Is It Generating Buzz in the Age of Twitter and SnapChat?

Long form journalism is making a comeback, which may be surprising in an age of Tweets and six-second Vines. One of the main reasons demand for long form has increased is the widespread availability of devices suitable for reading it. With Kindles, iPads, and even smartphones, long form content can go camping, on the train, in the car, or to the waiting room. People love stories, including long ones, but they want to be able to read them without being chained to a desk. Mobile devices let them do that.

A Forbes.com article by Lewis DVorkin talks about an email exchange DVorkin had with Longreads.com founder Mark Armstrong. Armstrong is a proponent of long form writing, saying that analytics show these pieces are retweeted ”days, weeks, months and even years after they were first published.” Armstrong chalks up the resurgence of long-form writing to four factors:

  • The rise of mobile devices
  • The rise of social media sharing
  • Better technological organization of long form content
  • Apps like Instapaper and Pocket that allow people to take stories offline to read in places without WiFi
Mobile devices, apps, and social media are prompting a resurgence of long form content.
Mobile devices, apps, and social media are prompting a resurgence of long form content.

Who’s Experimenting with Long Form Journalism?

Print publications like The New Yorker never stopped producing long form journalism throughout the transition to digital. In addition to the web versions of print publications known for the form, sites like The Verge, Polygon, The Atavist, and even BuzzFeed are getting in on long form writing.

Wait, BuzzFeed? The site known for easily digestible content like the five cutest cat gifs of the week? That’s right. In the fall of 2012, BuzzFeed hired Steve Kandell, former editor-in-chief of Spin to oversee BuzzFeed’s work on ”high-quality narrative journalism for the social web.”

Making Long Form Content Shareable

Pairing long form content with social media is the primary way long form content producers address audience development. Using social channels to point to longer form articles should be an important part of your promotion strategy for long form journalism.

Jim Bankoff, of Vox Media’s long form sports site SBNation, ”zigged” when everyone else was zagging toward lists and photo galleries and the exclusion of long form pieces. Bankoff told NPR, “Part of why Web content became shorter and less substantive was that publishers believed in order to have a successful digital business model, they had to produce things as quickly and as cheaply as possible.” But he found that advertisers find long form pieces very attractive, because great long form content engages readers longer: ”People are spending a lot of time with them. I think on average it’s about 17 minutes in our case, and sometimes much longer than that.”

This is not to say you should throw all your resources behind long form journalism. While there are successful sites solely devoted to the form, for the typical digital publication, traditional rules still apply as far as traffic development. Your content should still mostly be ”snackable.” People generally want to consume shorter pieces, supplemented with occasional long form content.

BuzzFeed Executive Editor Doree Shafrir doesn’t think long form journalism and shareability are mutually exclusive, asking The Poynter Institute last year, ”Why should we take for granted that a sort of quote, unquote ‘longform,’ serious piece won’t be shared on social media, as if the two things can’t exist in one ecosystem?”

It may be time for another look at long form content. The rise of mobile devices has breathed new life into this format as readers carry articles with them on their tablets and phones rather than being tethered to a desk. Long form content can tie in well with revenue development, attracting high quality advertisers, and drawing attention to other revenue development streams like ecommerce and custom job boards.

Photo Credits: stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net, adamr/freedigitalphotos.net

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