What does a major publishing house look like in the digital age?
Random House of Canada has offered one answer with today’s launch of a multifaceted digital strategy that includes an online magazine (known as Hazlitt), an ebook imprint (Hazlitt Originals), and a website redesign.
The centrepiece of the campaign is the online magazine, the subject of some industry speculation ever since Random House of Canada hired Christopher Frey, a founder of Outpost magazine and Toronto Standard, earlier this year. While Hazlitt, which takes its name from a 19th-century literary critic and essayist, will be hosted on the Random House of Canada website, the company says it will maintain editorial independence, relying on freelance journalists to provide much of the content.
As the idea evolved, there was an understanding at several levels of the company that for this, as a magazine, to succeed and build an audience and have credibility, it will have to have its own editorial identity, Frey told Q&Q, following a media launch earlier this week. Many of the people writing for it will have to be non“Random House authors or working journalists. We will need to be able to write about everything in the culture, and not just Random House books.
Contributing writers will include Lynn Crosbie, Kaitlin Fontana, Billie Livingston, Jason McBride, Drew Nelles, and Carl Wilson, as well as filmmaker Scott Cudmore (who will provide multimedia content). Frey says he views the magazine as competing with any other Web-based magazine out there, like Slate or Salon or The Awl, or the Web versions of other print magazines.
Hazlitt stories can be read online for free. At launch, the magazine features limited advertising, and cross-promotions for Random House titles appear low-key.
This is an opportunity for us directly to engage with readers, and to bring the writers we represent close to readers, says Robert Wheaton, vice-president and director of strategic digital business development. Learning from readers is of tremendous importance to us across the entirety of our business.
As for the other key facet of Random House of Canada’s online push, the digital department will work with the company’s book publishing division to produce ebooks under the Hazlitt Originals imprimatur. The first title in the series, which will focus on non-fiction and essays, is journalist Patrick Graham’s The Man Who Went to War: A Reporter’s Memoir from Libya and the Arab Uprising. It will be followed by U.K. journalist Steven Poole’s anti-foodie polemic You Aren’t What You Eat and Ivor Tossell’s The Gift of Ford, about Toronto’s mayor.
The digital-only publishing initiative takes a page from Byliner.com and the Canadian Writers’ Group, the writers’ organization behind the ebook Finding Karla: How I Tracked Down an Elusive Serial Child Killer and Discovered a Mother of Three by journalist Paula Todd. Likewise, the Organization of Book Publishers of Ontario’s Open Book project and the Association of Canadian Publishers’ 49th Shelf are both attempts to create an online hub serving the dual role of marketing tool and source for compelling content.
But the scope of Random House’s digital ambitions are unprecedented in Canadian publishing. Ultimately, we view this as a platform for future innovations in publishing, Frey says.