I’m sitting here, tossing around ideas for next year’s Commonwealth magazine, trying to figure out how to make it something that people will look forward to getting. I’m not saying they don’t — but it is a trade mag and it is free, and I’m being honest when I say that, like my monthly magazine from AAA, I bet it’s skimmed more than read.

And then I’m told, "REALTORS® don’t read." It’s a recurring problem, trying to get folks to sit down with the written word and absorb it.

Now now, don’t get insulted. No one reads much anymore; there’s just too much stuff out there these days, and everyone’s in such a high-pressure rush that there’s no time to sit and read every Web site, magazine, book, manual, and whatever else comes along.

Frankly, I’m surprised you’ve read this much into this post.

But I really want to change that. It’s the kind of challenge I love: Get people to want to read Commonwealth, and to talk about it. "Did you see that story about such-and-such?"

 

The spectrum

There are two ends to the must-read spectrum. On the one end, you could give people what they tell you they want. That’s a big mistake. People will almost always ask for what they think they’re supposed to want, rather than what they will actually read. It’s human nature.

It’s an old story: People say they want long, in-depth stories, chock full of ‘meat,’ but when push comes to shove they reach for USA Today over The Economist. (Americans, when polled, say they watch an average of

On other other end if giving people what you know they’ll want, but what will probably get you in a lot of trouble.

When I worked for a trade magazine in Cincinnati, the question came up, "What should we put on the Web site so it can make a lot of money?" I quipped, "Porn." Cue the nervous laughter. Humor, shocking photos, strong opinions — that’s what people want. (Why do you think newspapers are in such decline? They’re boring.)

So the trick is to find the sweet spot: Give the people what they say they want, but in a format they’re likely to read. To me, that means shorter pieces, charts and graphs to give the picture quickly, enough humor and opinion to make it interesting, but not so much that our image is sullied. (Ergo, scratch "2009 REALTOR® Swimsuit Issue" from the list.)

At least, I think so.

If you’ve read this far — and you have my thanks if you have — tell me what you think. What would make Commonwealth, or any other such magazine, a must-read? Or at least a must-skim?