World’s leading magazine writers unveil new publishing platform

The Kickstarter project of cooperative long-form journalism platform, Deca, recently announced it had more than doubled its initial $15,000 seed funding goal.

It’s a fairly modest target for a platform that aims to do for journalism what Magnum did for professional photographers in the 1950s. The aim is to collaborate efforts between professionals and help protect the industry from the threat of increasingly diverse free content from amateur writers.

To this end Deca have been able to get together an impressive array of Pulitzer Prize winners and top editorial writers from all segments of the magazine publishing business, from war correspondents to travel writers. “Deca” constitutes a kind of network therefore, a brand that represents freelance journalist with a simple publishing platform to work around.

Now, there’s nothing particularly unusual about the concept of content-creators attempting to cut out perceived middlemen and it’s a concept that’s been attempted by numerous start-ups in other industries over the years.

What sets Deca apart?

1. It’s long-form:

Deca plans to publish one small, sub-novella long-form piece a month. This isn’t as unusual as you’re probably imagining it to be. Most readers’ experience of long-form journalism in printed publications comes in the form of lengthy human interest stories in publications like National Geographic.

Over the years however, websites like BuzzFeed have helped to drive growth and long-form journalism has become something unto itself on the web, carving out a sizable niche for itself amongst free blog and editorial content. It’s also one area that could benefit greatly from a more intuitive reading experience than a desktop screen, given its length.

2. It aims to counteract the rise of amateur content (not just cut out the publisher):

This is key. Despite Deca having a collaborative editorial and design process that involves its members, it is ultimately about professional writers who understandably want to protect their part of the industry in a time of difficult transition for magazine publishing.

To this end it will be competing with a veritable army of blogs and other free online published content that caters to a huge number of hobbies and interests, from travel blogs to particular kinds of political beliefs, many of which have large, growing audiences from amateur writers used to publishing long-form material themselves.

3. It’s using digital publishing to safeguard traditional writers:

A lot of the narrative about digital content and digital publishing over the past decade and on tablet devices over the past four has been shaped by how easy content creation has become, the idea of the everyman as writer, with his own niche or broad audience. Deca by contrast is using digital to change the way traditional writers work and get their content out to readers, beyond merely recreating existing print magazines in a digital format.

It’s an admirable effort, but Deca’s messaging needs to be consistent for it to resound with the public at large. There’s a lot of conflicting marketing messages about Deca’s collaborative efforts, with some suggesting it’s akin to a “democratization” or “more inclusive” kind of journalism.

This approach would be a mistake. For people to embrace paid-for long-form content again, it needs to explicitly demarcate itself from free content qualitatively. The affordable and transparent pricing model ($15 a year) is a good start, let’s hope readers are prepared to give it a chance.

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