The other day I was in my beloved local coffeehouse, looking for something to read while I drank my iced coffee. Alas, I had already read nearly all of the options, so I picked up the only one I hadn’t, Lola.
Its tagline is “Boston’s New Best Friend”; its website title refers to it as a guide to fashion, shopping, and events. So let’s just say I’m not in its target market, and have rarely read it.
Flipping through it — the Love and Sex issue, as it happened — I noticed that a column on the brain chemistry of love was written by…the Boston Globe’s health columnist. Huh. And then there was a spread of seen-on-the-street fashion photos snapped by…someone who does an identical column in the Globe Sunday magazine. Neat gig, I think, if you can recycle that material and get paid for it twice. And then the reader letter in the advice column made me think, have I not read this exact same letter in the Globe magazine’s advice column…? At which point I became awfully suspicious and flipped to the front matter to look for some kind of statement of responsibility. And there it was, all teensy among the fine print — Lola’s an offshoot of the Globe.
It doesn’t look like the Globe. It’s very quiet about its affiliation; the size, layout, look and feel are very different. It’s a free magazine targeted at a tiny slice of the Globe’s potential audience – which repackages content the Globe has already paid for — in a format where it can attract an entirely new set of advertisers who can count on a much more defined demographic. (I guarantee you that cable companies do not advertise in the regular Globe by saying you can save money on cable, spend more on shoes. Pretty cute pair of shoes in that ad, though, gotta say. Impractical. Red. Not something that screams “paper of record”.)
Very clever, I think, very clever, Boston Globe. As answers go to the “future of newspapers” question, this one is sneaky. Leaves me wondering if — in some sort of place you would probably never find me, like a cigar store or gym or something — there is some Manly Man Executive magazine, with anonymously but slicky repackaged Globe business and sports content and low-key, modernist styling. It’s a franchise idea that keeps on giving, and most people would never see how often you’d exploited it.
Which got me to wondering, is there an analogous proposition for libraries? Libraries aren’t generally about collecting ad revenue , but they do face questions of what the future looks like and how to retain audience, and they do face tight budget constraints. Are there core services libraries can simply repackage (rather than expensively reinvent) to appeal to broader demographics? What would that even look like? The libraries which are exploiting Web 2.0 stuff (and, for the record, I hate that buzzword, even as I love the stuff) are making overtures in that direction, but of course there’s only certain populations you’re going to reach in that space, and web 2.0 tends to involve a lot of service invention and reinvention (as well it should, but again, the cost).