The technology publishing industry needs to transform in order to survive

In May 2017, IDG has laid off a good chunk of its publishing staff after the acquisition by a Chinese investment firm. In a way, that was the inevitable. Computerworld, an IDG publication, had its last printed run in 2014 and they struggled to stay afloat as a digital edition. The age of glossy computer magazines is pretty much over.

It just so happens that I am a part of the IDG independent contributor network and I keep a blog on Computerworld. I also have a professional blog, and I have been warming up to Medium lately. As a blogger, I’ve observed a few things over the years.

Nobody cares about thematic purity

When I started blogging on Computerworld, I had a few discussions with their editorial staff regarding the theme of my blog. My blog there is called “Cloud Power,” and I am supposed to stick to cloud computing as a topic.

The challenge, however, is that blogging is a spontaneous in-the-moment activity. The best articles that I’ve produced were when I was most passionate and opinionated about a topic. They were written in the moment, usually when I was most riled up by something I’ve read. My challenge with Computerworld blogging has always been that I had to think very carefully what I put there.

As it turns out, nobody cares about thematic purity. While there is usually a short surge of readers each time I publish something coming from social media, the highest quality traffic I get is from search engines. Each article is what matters in and of itself. In other words, a single site can cover many topics and be “in the moment” just fine. The thematic purity of the blog as a whole is pointless.

Publishing toolchain matters

Over the years I’ve gotten accustomed to a tool chain that helps me focus on writing. I like to use iPad and iPhone for writing. I use the Editorial app, and I write in Markdown. That allows me to edit my articles any time I have thoughts, like waiting in line at a store.

When I ready with my final draft, I export it as HTML, and I import it into the final publishing platform. In the case of WordPress, I can do that using my iPad. My entire publishing workflow can be done using my preferred toolchain. If only Grammarly ran on the iPad, my writing world would be complete.

There are more efficient channels for professional networking

I write because I am conscious of maintaining a personal brand. My writing is crucial to my professional networking. Make no mistake about it: having my Computerworld blog on my resume does carry some gravitas. I have no intention of quitting that.

Here is the thing, though: I have approximately 2000 contacts on LinkedIn. That is a much more targeted audience than the people I reach via Computerworld. These are individuals who can directly influence my career. They are my coworkers, my superiors, my recruiters.

I can see the stats. They are not lying. My self-published blog receives sustained traffic from search engines while I get much better short-term engagement from articles I post on LinkedIn than articles I post on Computerworld.

Medium has it right

The long-term success of Medium remains to be proven. They have yet to demonstrate they can monetize their platform successfully. However, Medium has something right – they allow publications to form out of loose collections of articles and groups of authors.

Consider that as a reflection of a modern publishing industry. The majority of writers do not work for one particular publisher full time. Most freelance for several. Medium allows authors to maintain their personal brand while writing articles on many topics without imposing thematic purity of content. The authors can form publications that can focus on specific topics, and they can write for many publications – or none at all.

IDG is uniquely positioned to build upon that model. They already have established and respected publications such as InfoWorld and ComputerWorld. I would keep the IDG Independent Contributor Network as an entirely separate stream, similar to loose articles on Medium. The editors of the publications can then pick and choose which articles to include in their respective magazines. This model allows spur of the moment content creation by bloggers while giving editors thematic control of their publications.

Final thoughts

I would hate to see InfoWorld and ComputerWorld die. They have a ton of quality content and, as I said, my blog at ComputerWorld has been crucial to my career development. But IDG has some tough decisions to make, and I hope they consider my advice.