MB Circus: Paul Cloutier Lets Images Do the Talking

While other media companies bemoan their ailing print arms, 8020 Publishing has jumped into the fray with a new publishing model that uses content created by online communities (don’t you dare call them “users”). 8020’s lead publication, JPG Magazine (“For people who love imagemaking without attitude”), is assembled from photos uploaded by and voted on by JPG members (says the website, “If your photo is included, you get a free year subscription and $100!”).

Today at the Mediabistro Circus, 8020’s founder and CEO Paul Cloutier dazzled with a talk guided by a series of well-designed slides, each offering a single terse idea that wouldn’t sound out of place coming out of a fortune cookie set against a full-bleed image that helped to convey it. “There is a scarcity of scarcity” was reinforced with the image of the lunar surface, while “Expertise not experts” was accompanied by a photo of oafish yet enthusiastic rockers in concert. Cloutier’s smart presentation meant that he didn’t waste time babbling about “Web 2.0” or its many buzzwords (“integrating platforms,” “providing user tools”). Instead, he supplemented his visual koans with refreshing specifics and offered sound advice, including “Design for selfishness.”

In the wake of Edutopia editor-in-chief James Daly’s presentation that advocated a brave, new, Web 2.0 world in which “editors act as party hosts” [cringe], Cloutier advised the Mediabistro Circus audience to “clean [its] head of the term ‘user-generated content,'” calling it a derogatory and depersonalizing term. He went on to distinguish between a community (active) and an audience (passive) and emphasized that, “an engaged community is more than cheap content.”

For 8020, engaged communities such as that of JPG have provided high-quality content created and shaped by an ever-growing group of worldwide contributors (case in point: a user-submitted photo taken at Chernobyl that Cloutier used in his presentation and overlaid with the phrase “Inside knowledge”) and low-cost production. JPG members submit at least 1,000 photos to the site each day and each issue of the magazine represents the results of over a million votes. “This makes the product better and makes our job easier,” said Cloutier, who noted that a magazine is inherently limited by the number of people directly connected to it.

And the reader-as-stakeholder model extends to the realm of advertising. 8020 has pioneered what Cloutier refers to as “a new kind of advertising…that uses the media for what its good at,” setting members to work on the challenge of creating, submitting, and voting on images based on themes developed in collaboration with advertisers. Cloutier showed one such ad for Expedia in which JPG members submitted images around the theme of a “jet set weekend.”

While emphasizing that magazines are “more than just print,” he also left the audience with a significant piece of advice to ponder: “Basically, don’t make a printed magazine that would be better if it was just on the web.”

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