I’ve been keeping my ear to the ground, listening for media industry trends that freelancers should know about so you can adjust your business plans for 2013 accordingly.
Look for the following trends to play out in the writing world this year:
1. New publications
Anyone who thinks magazines are dead doesn’t read Mr. Magazine (that’s him in the video). According to Samir Husni, otherwise known as the director of the University of Mississippi’s Magazine Innovation Center, publishers launched 870 new titles in 2012, the most since before the recession. Many new titles are niche publications, and more than a third are publishing with a regular frequency. He predicts more of the same in 2013. If you’ve been considering specializing, now’s the time.
2. Old markets reborn
Newsweek died as a print weekly, but lives on online. The owners of the Saturday Evening Post are revamping the venerable title aiming for “Vanity Fair meets Smithsonian” and targeting boomers. The business tycoon who bought the Orange County Register‘s parent company out of bankruptcy is pursuing a print-first philosophy – counter to everybody else on the planet – and is sinking money into expanding sections, staff and freelance budgets. Freedom Communications owner Aaron Kushner is said to be eyeing The Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times. Chicago Tribune and other newspapers and TV stations, which recently emerged from bankruptcy protection. Other possible suitors include Warren Buffett and Rupert Murdoch. Depending on who’s successful, we may see similar expansions at reinvigorated Tribune Co. properties – and the opportunities for freelancers that come with them. Moral of the story for freelancers: markets are moving. If you wrote off a publication a few years ago because they had no freelance, check in with them now, things may have changed.
3. Brand journalism
Companies are becoming publishers, creating news websites and other online content as part of their marketing strategies — and hiring freelancers to do the work. Whether you call it brand journalism or content marketing – the terms are often used interchangeably – the opportunities this trend poses for freelance writers have never been better. Or maybe I’m just biased. I’ve been working as a contract editor on brand journalism programs for the past three years, and the more time that passes, the more agencies I see hiring writers and editors for content marketing work. I’ll be moderating a brand journalism panel at the American Society of Journalists and Authors 2013 writers conference on Friday, April 26, in New York, and will be blogging more on this subject. Meanwhile, read more here: ASJA 2013 writers conference schedule.
Mobile was the big story of 2012 – better devices, more apps, and more people using smartphones to read news and books. 2013 promises more of the same, including more reporters using smartphones to do research, share pictures and video, and file stories. “If you’re not jumping fully onto the mobile bandwagon, you have no better time to do it than now,” writes Lauren Hockenson on Mediabistro’s 10,000 Words blog. How exactly do you do that? Jen A. Miller, a freelance writer who covers running, personal finance, the Jersey Shore and other subjects, recently used her iPhone to file a story after running a race. “The end hinged on how I did,” she told me in an email. “So I wrote most of the story in my office, then copied and pasted the text into an email. After the race, I typed the conclusion into that email and hit send.” Bonus: If you know how to write mobile apps, you’ll have companies begging to work for you. And if you don’t, there are plenty of opportunities for journalists to learn how to code.
5. Subscriptions, meters and paywalls
Andrew Sullivan’s decision to quit The Daily Beast and build a website that readers will pay to access has plenty of other bloggers wondering whether they’ve got what it takes to follow in his wake. Bloggers with a big enough brand — books, social media following, etc. — will be few and far between. But it doesn’t mean you can’t dabble with revenue-generating ventures you might not have considered before. That could include some paid-only information, joining a blog ad network for the first time, or selling e-books. In a word: experiment.
Companies that laid off employees during the recession and hired temps when they needed extra help are continuing to use contingent labor despite the much-improved economy. Translated into English, that menas more opportunities for freelancers, who are old pros when it comes to working on a collaborative, project-by-project basis. If you stopped working for trade magazines, newspapers or magazines in 2008 or 2009 when they were cutting back, it might be worth approaching them now with ideas for new projects. There might be even better pickings in corporate writing, with companies that once again have larger marketing budgets but aren’t eager to bring on full-time staff. Another collaboration trend worth noting: the growth in the number of coworking spaces that are actively seeking writers. If your second office is the local Starbucks, it might be time to check out OpenDesks.com or LiquidSpace to find cheap, shared office space in your area. Many larger cities – and cities like Portland with active creative communities – have writer-specific shared spaces.
The continued success of Kickstarter and Indiegogo for raising small amounts of money from many people for a variety of creative projects is attracting journalists to try crowdsourced funding platforms. Need further proof? The ASJA 2013 writers conference will also feature a panel on using Indiegogo.
8. Interactive storytelling
Snow Fall, the New York Times‘ late December story package on a deadly avalanche raised the bar for online stories that incorporate audio, video and animation along with text. Snow Fall’s design and graphics team was involved in the process from the beginning, as they explain in this how-we-did-it post. My guess is there won’t be a lot of freelancers who end up collaborating on such time-consuming projects (Snow Fall took more than six months). But if you write magazine features or long-form narrative journalism, it might be good to start thinking of interactive elements that can help tell your story: you’ll sound like a team player, and help your publication stay on the cutting edge.
9. Infographics, slideshows and GIFs
Speaking of interactive elements, infographics, GIFs and other types of data visualization hit the big time in 2012, with more sites creating them and more people sharing them on Pinterest – have you seen how many infographics people share on Pinterest? It’s easy to see why: the data nuggets are quick reads and easy on the eyes. But if you pitch creating them for an existing or new-to-you market, don’t underbid yourself. They may be short on words, but these data-rich graphics combine information from multiple sources. Pulling all of it together and then creating the graphics that tell the story can take the same amount of work as reporting and writing a traditional, text-heavy article. Price it accordingly. Photo slideshows are also gaining in popularity. Like infographics, they’re heavy on visuals.
10. Freelance marketplaces
Services such as Contently, Skyword and U.K.-based Creative Bloc are joining established players like oDesk, Elance and Ebyline to help connect freelancers with publishers, and process everything from story assignments to getting paid. Don’t confuse these with the Demand Medias of the world, the content farms that became infamous for offering insultingly low-paid work. Yes, some of these services offer work that doesn’t pay much. But more of them go beyond that, offering a platform of workflow management services that benefit publishers and writers. For example, writers can use them to create an online portfolio and manage assignments, while publishers can use them to send group messages to multiple writers, keep track of stories in progress, and process invoices. How effective they are remains to be seen. I recently started using Contently to manage a contract editing gig and will write about it when there’s more to share. If you’ve had a good experience with one of the services, let me know, I’m compiling a listing of freelance agencies to publish in the near future and would love to include from-the-trenches observations.
Writers can luxuriate in a overabundance of digital storytelling tools that have debuted in the past year or so. 2012 witnessed the birth of web-based or mobile apps for journalists for doing research, reporting a story, and keeping and sharing notes, like Spundge, pictured above. This year, look for more new apps to keep up with what’s happening on your beat, promote your work (or yourself) and stay productive. It’s enough to make a tech geek out of the most diehard Luddite.
12. Long-form storytelling
Narrative nonfiction, long-form storytelling is getting a new lease on life thanks to websites such as Longform.org and Byliner that feature the best of the best of longer reported, investigative and essay works. Some of what appears on those sites is original, and some of it has appeared elsewhere. The genre also has been helped by the one-two punch of e-readers or tablet computers plus web-based services like Instapaper, Flipboard and Pocket (formerly known as Read it Later) that let readers save webpages and call them up later, say when they’re sitting on the subway or reading in bed. Let’s not forget Kindle Singles, a program of Amazon’s publishing division selling longer stories and essays by the piece. Authors whose work is accepted by the publisher keep 70 percent of the list price. But it’s still now clear to me how successful it’s been. In its first 13 months, Amazon sold 2 million Singles, which range in price from $.99 to $4.99, according to this Chicago Sun-Times story.
13. E-books and self-publishing
Self-publishing is growing up. The past year saw traditional book publishers snap up successful self-published authors, and authors who’d previously followed a more traditional path to getting their work into readers’ hands self publish. Expect a repeat performance in 2013. ““More and more frustrated writers will choose to self-publish,” writes Nick Harrison, senior editor at Harvest House Publishers, in this Author Media blog post. 2013 also could see some industry consolidation, with at least one mainstream publishing house acquiring a genre specific e-book publisher, according to another publishing industry expert quoted in the same post.
Read more on 2013 media industry trends:
- 10 Online Journalism Trends for 2013 (Digitize Me, Captain)
- 3 Tech Trends that Show Journalism of the Future (Mediabistro’s 10,000 Words)
- Trends to look for in journalism for 2013 (Digital Journal)
- 7 publishing trends that will define 2013 (PandoDaily)