Sunday, 21 September 2008

#21 – Why editors love round-up articles

Or playing the numbers game

Money-spinning list articles
Round-up – or list – articles are brilliant money-spinners for the freelance travel writer. I’m afraid that if you keep coming back to this site, you’re probably going to get bored of me saying that. I’m not going to apologise for this – it is a point well worth emphasising. Even if it is with a sledgehammer.

Editor response
I will always remember the response of one of my editors when I pitched him one of these best-of pieces. I can’t even remember what it was now (probably something like Top Ten Adrenaline Rushes in Australia), but the e-mail he sent commissioning it was very illuminating.

Number on the cover
I’m paraphrasing a little here, but his response was something along the lines of: “Yep, sounds great. And it’ll keep the publisher happy – get a number on the cover and all that.”
It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But an enticing magazine cover is a hugely important factor in getting readers to pick up and buy a magazine.

Top Ten or Fifty Best?
And list articles will do that. Think about when you read through a magazine or travel section. Most of us will flick past stories about destinations we’re not interested in. But when there’s a Top Ten, Fifty Best or 100 To Do Before You Die, we’ll look. Well I certainly do, and magazine sales figures suggest that others do too.

Menu of choices
Why do we do this? It’s partly out of curiosity – we want to know which has been deemed the best, and want to argue over it. It’s also partly because we like having a menu of choices – if we fancy going to a tropical island, it’s nice to have bite-sized round-ups of a few tropical islands to look through.

Selling more copies
To the publisher, however, it’s all about the bottom line. Sell more copies, make more money. And if having a few numbers on the front (30 greatest, top 50, whatever) sells more copies, then they’re going to want articles that allow them to do that.
And unless the editor doesn’t want to keep his or her job, (s)he is going to be looking for that sort of piece to put on the cover too. The magazine can have some of the best writing in the world, but ultimately the editor’s performance will be based on how many people buy the thing.

Not an isolated incident
This editor wasn’t the first to mention this tendency to me either – another said much the same thing when I proposed 50 Things To Do In Australia For Free to her. “Ooh – that’ll look good on the cover...”


Chava 812 said...

I think another reason why people like these is because if you're grabbing a few moments to look at a mag at the doctor's office or the supermarket line, you don't know how much time you'll have. But a list seems to be something you can scan quickly, top to bottom and leave off what you don't get to. At least that's how it works for me! (Course top 100 cities to live in, I do look thru the whole list for my cities...;)

Fiona Young-Brown said...

A lot of my first assignments locally were round up pieces: Top Ten Haunted Spots, Top 5 Weekend Getaways, etc. They're quick and easy to write and magazines love them from an advertising perspective too.