Anthony Morrow is the editor & publisher of Detour
, a music, film and culture blog based in Royal Oak, Michigan. He was previously the marketing director for Metro Times newspaper.
While at Metro Times, Anthony developed the paper’s signature event, Blowout
, into the largest local music festival in the U.S. His latest event, Rock City
, featured a diverse lineup of 50 Detroit-bred and national bands. He is also an independent filmmaker having produced music videos and commercials for the White Stripes, Von Bondies, Detroit Cobras and Specs Howard, to name a few.
Anthony holds a B.A. in Communications with a minor in Film Aesthetics & History from Oakland University. He lives with his wife Kelly and son Rocco in Royal Oak.
Anthony will be writing about what it takes to start an Internet publication, and keep it going.
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All photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.
This past year and a half has been like getting an accelerated Master’s degree in online publishing. If anything has come out of this adventure, it’s having a clear idea of what it takes to build and maintain a successful publication. I’ve outlined the four guiding principles that I’ve culled from our experiences and from researching the most-influential websites out there today.
Know your audience. If you truly know your audience, you can describe in detail what they look like, the places they frequent, what products they use, etc. The worst mistake a business entity can make is not taking the time to learn about your audience and understand their tendencies. Initiate market research however you can. Conduct a survey on your site. Set up a booth at an event and capture audience data through information cards. Network and talk to as many people as you can. Ask the advice of the people who have done what you are aspiring to do. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn by just asking the questions.
Create unique content. This seems like a no-brainer but it’s going to be even more important for sites to develop features that separate themselves from their competition. When you and five other blogs in your city are all covering the same event, how do you rise to the top? What are you doing different?
Convert offline to online. The overall success of any online media source depends primarily on the ability to attract offline visitors to the online product. You need to establish marketing initiatives designed to draw a qualified audience to the site on a regular basis. In a highly competitive market like Detroit, it takes more than putting out flyers at the record store. Being able to produce special events, execute onsite promotions and develop strategic partnerships with the venues and festivals that your target audience frequents are crucial in driving traffic to your site.
Monetize the eyeballs. Not only are all of us online publishers battling a shitty economy, we’re fighting banner blindness, ROI (return on investment) and new competitive threats. The best publications are those that effectively interweave relevant ads into content without putting off the reader. This is a constant challenge that is about to see another big shift as advertisers are making their play for cell phone content. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is for my iPhone applications to be overrun with ads for teeth whitening.
Web 2.0 is in full effect. There is no more uncertainty or hesitation from any company in recognizing the web as the next frontier of business development. As trends shift and audiences expect more from their websites, Detour will strive to meet those demands, continually whetting the appetites of the tastemakers by churning out loads of exceptional content and producing a slate of kick-ass events
By the time we threw our launch party in September 2007, it seemed we had already lived a lifetime. One year of online publishing is like ten years of traditional publishing. The technology is ever shifting and advertising models are not yet stable. There are new blogs and social networks popping up every month. Some sites are selling content sponsorships, some are utilizing a CPM model and rates are all over the map. Creating a profitable environment for your advertisers while trying not to alienate your readers is one hell of a balancing act.
It wasn’t just the changing technological landscape that we had to overcome. Other local publications had it out for us. The stakes were high. We came out of the gates strong and were getting a lot of attention. I implored our writers to ruffle feathers and stir debate. We wanted to separate ourselves from the pack and put our stamp on the Detroit media scene.
I applaud anyone making a go of it here. It’s true that being a creative in Detroit makes you a big fish in a small pond. But more times than not, the pond is devoid of fresh water. It’s either that or another big fish is trying to drown you. It’s an uphill battle here in more ways than one. I believe that growing up in Detroit gives you a certain type of moxie that allows you to battle the detractors and find success.
It’s this moxie that feeds into our mission at Detour. We know that for us to have the type of growth we want to have, we need to stay true to our goals. We want to document and promote Detroit’s wealth of indie music and culture. At the same time we want to be the tastemaker that gives you the scoop on what’s happening – what bands you should see, what MP3s you should download, what films are worth your time, etc. This mission is ongoing and doesn’t happen overnight. We are continually building a trust-factor with our audience.
In my next and final post, I will talk about how knowing your audience is the main cornerstone of success for any publication.
I got laid off. That’s how Detour started. I mean, the idea had been brewing, and I planned to make it a reality sooner or later. But in that moment of someone telling me I was no longer needed, I became hell-bent on starting my own thing.
It was a blessing really. After three tours of duty and seven job titles over an eight-year stretch at Metro Times, I still had no career path. And I was frustrated. I thought the paper suffered from a lack of vision. I felt that we needed to target a younger audience, which meant writing less about politics and incinerators and upscale restaurants and more about the burgeoning indie music and cultural scene and while we’re at it, let’s produce some cool, provocative covers. My ideas of where the paper needed to go fell on deaf ears. I pushed for more control because, in my mind, I thought I could be groomed to be a publisher. In their minds, I was expendable.
I knew right then that no one was going to ever make me a publisher so I had to promote myself and take a chance. I remember reading Robert Rodriguez’s book on filmmaking, and he said, before he even made a film, he produced business cards that bore the title "Director." That was the spirit I championed when starting Detour. I wrote a business plan, scouted office space, secured a loan and hired my staff. On June 1, 2007 we launched, and I became a publisher.
But let’s take a quick trip back. For almost twenty years, Metro Times was the only game in town as far as local entertainment/culture publications go. Sometime in 1999, the game changed. Rival rags started popping up. Most of these did not make a dent, but one in particular, Real Detroit, found a niche and began to cut into MT’s market share.
Similar to the way that Real Detroit looked at the media landscape and decided to take a slice of the pie, I surveyed the marketplace and felt as if Detour could fill a void. We explored doing something in print, but those plans were quickly abandoned for a multitude of reasons, the biggest of which was cost. It’s incredibly expensive to produce a weekly or even monthly print product and have controlled distribution throughout metro Detroit. Not to mention, I didn’t want to get lost in the glut of print publications currently mucking up the vestibules and counters of the majority of Detroit’s independent businesses. We also felt that the voice that we would develop for the publication was much better suited for the web. And being exclusively online meant we could post multiple stories each day and drive repeat traffic. The immediacy of the web is unparalleled by any medium. We wanted to cultivate an audience obsessed with getting new information 3-5 times per day.
So we were up and running and churning out content at a breakneck pace. I’m pretty sure this was the hardest any of us had ever worked and personally the most pressure I had ever felt. But it was exhilarating. Our next move was to throw a big ass party.