Career Change: A Farewell to Publishing

Please allow me to vent for a bit about the career I am happily leaving behind.


It’s taken me a little while to write about things that I have been hinting at to friends and family for some time now. Mainly because I wanted to get my affairs squared before going into too much detail. But with about a week or so left until my new path is made official, I figured this was as good a time as any to explain my change.

Back on June 24, 2011 — after nearly eleven years on the roller coaster that is producing websites for mainstream magazines — I had had enough. Enough of explaining to one print professional after another that the web was not their enemy. That I was not there to simply recreate the print environment on the computer screen thereby threaten their jobs, rather I was there to further the reach and expand the revenue potential of the brand as a whole. This was something they could never grasp.

In the beginning of my foray into publishing, back in 2000, I could understand the fears and misconceptions on the part of the print world. Back then, the commercial web as we have come to know it was a mere few years old. All anyone knew of what they perceived to be successful websites weren’t websites at all. They were portals like AOL or early search tools like Yahoo or e-commerce pioneers like eBay or Amazon.

However, over the course of the decade that followed, editorial websites began to make real strides in becoming the source of choice with many readers. And yet, the magazine industry struggled. They were seemingly obsessed less with the quality of online editorial and more with becoming the next shiny, flashy, beepy big thing.

With each passing phase of portals, ecommerce, and social whatevers, the one thing that publishers should have been concentrating would fade into the background. Editorial quality. They instead would form planning committees to study the latest trends, meet endlessly on how to use said trends in their business plans, and ultimately adopt those trends a year or two after they stopped actually trending.

Of course, they would never let the editorial voice of their magazines suffer the same fate. This was the source of my frustrations. No matter how hard I would argue that the path to a successful website was thru maintaining the same editorial integrity of their magazine, they would always treat the web audience as some mysterious and altogether different animal. Of course, in reality, the two are the same.

Many publishers and editors were (and still are) easily seduced by slick consultants with a thesaurus of buzzwords. More often than not, these were people who didn’t know a lot (to be polite) about the web but acted as if they did. Meanwhile, I devoted my career to honing the skills needed to create successful websites for magazine readers.

Not to brag but, I was pretty damned good at it.

I’m a very analytic and curious person by nature. I tend to over think things and find joy in the minute details of solving problems. Most of the jobs I’ve had — from musician to sound designer to inventory control to cleaning the blood off the walls of a local butcher (I kid you not) — required a certain level of fascination with and an aptitude for process.

This (in a strange way) also explains my addiction to documentaries.

I’ve approached the task of being a web producer with the same obscene focus as any other problem-solving job of my past. I’d mull over the details of some interactive feature in the same way that I did when I needed to create an inventory control database for a factory in Thailand (which I did while watching a documentary on the building of the Concord). Even editing this piece you are reading is yet another exercise in glorious tedium.

So what was the problem? Why did publishing go bad for me over time? I think it’s because I took on the role of the tortoise rather than the hare. This, above all, I believe made the barons of corporate America — who like to see quick riches — quite nervous.

My methods may have been slow, but they were extremely effective. There was not a site that I worked on that had not — at minimum — tripled in traffic during my tenure. Some were way higher than that and one increased over 6,000% in under five years. And yet, I was inevitably out ranked by some fancy-talking outsider who would succeed in causing the traffic to plummet upon my departure.

They would move on. I would move on. The cycle would continue. A cycle I’d eventually get sick of. And here we are, back where this rant began. At a crossroads in my life. I’ve stood at many a crossroad in days gone by. I’ve made a few right moves, a few wrong ones too. For the most part, I’ve landed on my feet. Sometimes broke but rarely broken.

The world of publishing is now a fading image in my rearview, well sorta. After all, I’m here writing about it and yes, publishing it. I’ve confessed many times to loving the process of publishing and production. I won’t ever give this up completely. What I will do is choose to make my money elsewhere, allowing me to rediscover my love of the process again.

So now, on to my next chapter…


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One Response to “Career Change: A Farewell to Publishing”

  1. edzo
    08/04/11 at 2:13 pm #

    kudos Steve, without taking chances, there’s no room for discovery :-) I’ve no doubt you’ll do fine if not better!

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