Saturday, March 01, 2008

A New Look for On Spec's Website

Canada’s top SF magazine, On Spec, has redesigned its website: I have to say they’ve done a fine job of it. The new design is simple and elegant and the functionality works quite well. From the looks of it, there are still a couple of pages that need the content filled-in, but that’ll happen soon enough, I assume.

I’m not sure when exactly the new design kicked-in, but I suspect it happened sometime in the last week or two. As I mentioned not too long ago, I’ve been starting to wonder when the Winter 2007 issue of On Spec will be released, so I’ve been checking the site every now and again for the past couple of weeks. When I clicked on it earlier this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to find the new look (as well as the cover for the Winter ’07 edition, which made me doubly happy).

My hope is that the On Spec blog will soon follow suit. Aside from the blog’s look needing to be in-line with that of the primary site, I think this is an opportunity for the gang at On Spec to take a hard look at their philosophy behind the blog. It’s got a lot of potential for good content and community-building (which, fan priorities aside, from a business perspective, feeds into subscriber loyalty and increased subscription and ad sales), but since its launch, the On Spec blog’s potential has been largely unrealized. The central problem is that they’re not adding new content anywhere near frequently enough. Months can go by between postings. In order to keep readers/community members coming back, in order to make it a top SF destination on the net, rather than a forgotten and rarely-visited waystation, the mag staff have got to start beefing-up the blog. I’m talking about regular columns by the editors or frequent contributors, I’m talking about guest editorials by some of Canada’s big name authors, I’m talking about online diaries of the staff attending cons across the country, or anecdotes from the assembly of each issue of the mag, or progress notes if the mag’s going to be late, or regular writing tips, or more book and movie reviews, or highlights from the annual Auroras, or… or… or… Well, you get the point. They could and should be doing more with the On Spec blog.

That being said, I’m betting there are probably very good reasons why we haven’t seen more from the blog. I’m guessing it’s got to do with staffing and time limitations, probably stemming from the fact that it’s a big job assembling a lineup of great stories and poems and then putting the mag itself together every quarter (never mind finding time for personal lives and possibly other careers). As a former radio newscaster who had to assemble casts, read the news on-air, get stories, and, when time permitted, update the news content on the station’s website, I’m well away that websites and blogs can come in a very distant second on the priority list. And yet, maybe that’s where the staff can tap into some of their regular contributors or reliable readers to help out. A web presence and its community-building power are integral for the success of a publication like this in our era. If the resources aren’t there in the mag’s office to supply the blog with regular fresh content, that’s where tapping the community at-large becomes a solution worth examining. I think there are probably legions of loyal readers (myself included) and contributors who’d be willing to lend a hand.

At any rate, these things can take time, and like the reader waiting for the next issue of On Spec to arrive in the mail or on the shelf of the local book store, we’ve got to be patient. I think though, that in re-imaging the On Spec website, the mag’s staff have definitely evolved in the right direction.

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