Reverse publishing – way to go

I added a glossary entry to Magforum a year ago – ‘reverse publishing’ that I picked up at the FT. There, online news editor David Crouch used the term to mean taking readers’ comments from the paper’s website and publishing them in the paper. The back page of the FT on a Monday now relies on such postings, and summaries of the web-based Q&As are regular features in its pages.

The term popped up again the other day, this time in the context of magazines (I had thought in an IPC press release about Digital Camera – but I can’t for the life of me see where now!).

Yet magazines have always done this – what, after all, are letters page, or readers’ queries?

Now, magazines and newspapers, with the help of the web, are going back to an 1881 business model that spawned so many of them – Tit-bits launched by George Newnes. He established a model of rewriting material from many sources (copyright is undoubtedly something he had little time for at this stage in his career), using cheap newsprint and selling in volume. In other words, the content was very cheap. Alfred Harmsworth’s Answers to Correspondents on Every Subject under the Sun did the same and later spawned the Daily Mail (the column of the name still exists in the Mail and similar features adorn other papers, such as the Guardian); he became press baron Lord Northcliffe. Felix Dennis is on a similar tack with The Week.

Not only does reverse publishing take magazines back to their roots in terms of finding cheap copy, it does the same for the web. In his book Weaving the Web Tim Berners-Lee, its inventor, describes how a book of compiled Answers was one of his inspirations for the WWW.

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One Response to “Reverse publishing – way to go”

  1. Peter Hobday Says:

    Tony – what a great site!
    Alfred Harmsworth took that idea of readers letters a stage further with the Daily Mail and offered first world war front line soldiers money to send in their experiences.
    He had discovered that Lord Kitchener had been sending the wrong kind of shell and ‘had a go’ at him. However, that was not a popular move at the time and sales collapsed. These days that would probably have the opposite effect I suppose.
    Peter

    Very true. The Germans also sent Harmsworth some shells – from a cruiser they sent to the south coast to bombard his home! There’s a hole in the wall to this day.

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