Long-form never stopped working

Fashions come and go. Verities do not.

One verity respected by many old-fashioned writers and publishers is the simple fact that long-form pieces work better than short-form ones for the purpose of communicating in depth. If you want deep, and you’re writing prose, more of it will work better than less of it, given an equally strong work-over by a good copy-edit.

Such has also been my ample experience at this game. Long-form has always out-performed short, even during the long dark period during which the common non-wisdom in online publishing was that short beat long. Some examples from my own oeuvre:

Now comes Fast Company‘s FastCo Labs, with findings that support the obvious, delivered in a long-ish article by Chris Dannen titled This Is What Happens When Publishers Invest In Long Stories. Two pull-quote conclusions: “quality, not velocity, is the future of online news,”and “Long Form Is The Past And Future.”

There are also business advantages:

…In fact, we’re not the only organization betting on long form quality. Here’s the CEO of Vox Media Jim Bankoff talking at TechCrunch Disrupt on May 2, 2013 (emphasis mine):

We know somethings as a fact. Globally there is a $250 billion advertising market of which 70 percent is really built on brand building… the top of the funnel, to use the marketing jargon. If you look at the web, which is a $25 billion slice of that pie, 80 percent of it is direct response–it’s search… it’s bottom of the funnel stuff. So there’s a big market opportunity there that hasn’t been captured. Where is all the brand building going [...] that we had seen previously in magazines and newspapers and even in broadcast going to go, as consumers turn their attention to digital media? We believe there’s a big opportunity there, but someone has to actually go after it–someone has to bring the quality back.

This recalls everything Don Marti has been saying about brand advertising vs. adtech over the last two years. Follow that link. Read back through his stuff. And, if you’re in the adtech game, leave your defenses at the door. If you want more, visit what I wrote here and here about advertising vs. direct marketing, exploring the same territory.

Bear this in mind too: most writers would rather have their work accompanied by brand advertising than by adtech that’s busy giving personalized messages to the reader — both for the reasons Don and I give at the links above, and because personalized adtech competes more aggressively for the reader’s attention.

We writers have a similar dislike for turning a long piece into many small chunks, so the reader’s eyeballs get dragged across fresh advertising on every page. That’s an infuriating publishing practice that not only makes a long piece hard to read, but also hard to scan for ideas or to search through for a word or a string.

These desires inconvenience publishers, and — under the subhead “The Downside of Long Quality Articles” — Chris visits those. All of the ones he lists are on the production side: server and CMS limitations, composuer UI and so on. Long-form itself has no downsides other than not being short.

Bottom line: Long-form does what only long-form can do. The time has come for publishers to respect that fact.

1 comment

  1. Don Marti’s avatar

    Thank you for the link. I really need to convert all those blog posts wondering about advertising and signaling into one long “Adtech Considered Harmful” article.

    The effectiveness of brand advertising depends on the audience seeing it as attached to some resource that is expensive or difficult to produce. Times Square buildings, the Super Bowl, and beautiful glossy magazines are three classic examples — but a well-written long article can be an effective place to put an ad, too. (IMHO, the advertising will be more effective when the audience has effective privacy tools, so will tend to believe that the ad is “advertising” in the original sense and not just a digital cold call.)

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