Does Quality Always Win?

Jane Friedman at 2012 National Magazine Awards

Jane at 2012 National Magazine Awards (NYC)

I had the very good fortune of attending this year’s National Magazine Awards in New York City. Even though I’m not yet officially on staff of the Virginia Quarterly Review, I was able to tag along and see if any of the three nominations would turn into wins. (Sadly, not this year.)

The final award of the evening was given to Time, as Magazine of the Year. The editor who came up to accept said, “We will win in the long run. Quality wins.”

What did he mean by that?

I’m not really sure. Presumably “we” refers to the magazine industry, and magazines will win because they put out quality material unlike … who? Bloggers like myself? Online-only publications? Atavist? Salon? Huffington Post? Flipboard? Netflix? Google? Amazon? Apple? Wikipedia? Cable television? All of the above?

What comes to mind is a recent column by David Brooks. He has a unique argument to make about why we ought to move away from the “competition” mindset that’s prevalent in our culture:

Instead of being slightly better than everybody else in a crowded and established field, it’s often more valuable to create a new market and totally dominate it. The profit margins are much bigger, and the value to society is often bigger, too.

[We’re] talking about doing something so creative that you establish a distinct market, niche and identity. You’ve established a creative monopoly and everybody has to come to you if they want that service, at least for a time.

That probably hasn’t provided an ounce of clarity, has it?

But I sure would like to know why a magazine might feel threatened in such a way that it must defiantly insist, “Quality wins!” Would it not be more valuable, as Brooks points out, to establish a distinct market, niche, and identity? (Especially if you’re media agnostic about it?)

I hope everyone will discuss in the comments, especially your thoughts on whether quality always wins.

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Posted in Publishing Industry.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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