In a move to lower its editorial costs, the Ladies' Home Journal is pretending that its readers are as skilled at producing stories as their writers -- for whom this has to be a Smack!!! in the face with a three-day-old mackerel. "We really flipped this model," Editor in Chief Sally Lee claimed in one news report. Not really -- any number of trade pubs and consumer sites like Huffington Post have long relied on user-generated content to avoid paying professionals. However, Lee then said: "We are going to pay them our professional rates." Really? (Smack!!!) But not, I guess, any healthcare and other costs related to full-time writers such as office space, benefits and expenses -- stuff that adds about 40% of additional cost beyond salary.
In addition to lowering costs -- something essential in a business that is slowly but surely sinking into oblivion -- editors fantasize that there are lots of other J K Rowlings out there who, with a little encouragement and some gratuitous shekels, will emerge from the great unwashed masses and blossom like impatiens in August.
"What are you doing today?"
"I have to run by the grocery, grab some dinner, take in the dry cleaning, get the kids at 3 -- then file 1,500 words for Ladies' Home Journal. I guess the ironing can wait another day."
This might also be a thinly disguised way of "building loyalty" among readers who are increasingly fickle and resistant to sub offers from magazines that sit unread on the bedside. But Ms. Lee might want to have a chat with Arianna about what happens in the long run, if and when there is a tangible disconnect between the effort required to pull together a quality story and compensation for said effort.
There is also the New Age argument that user-generated content is "genuine" -- or, more jargon-istically, "authentic." Perhaps -- but it is also more biased, less factual, less inclusive and prone to misuse by folks with too much time on their hands who like to see their caustic comments published like graffiti in the night. But the LHJ won't let this happen because they will top-edit what their readers produce. And hey -- who doesn't LOVE to be edited!
User-generated content is fast losing its appeal, especially in reviews -- since it is increasingly harder to discern what is a real "been there, done that" post from an actual consumer trying to be helpful to others and contributions from shills paid to soften the blows of poor reviews or fictionalize excellence where, in fact, there is none.
If there is any merit to the moves by LHJ, it is in the tacit recognition that those not part of the Great Eastern Establishment Press have points of view worth hearing. Whether they can commit them to compelling stories remains to be seen.