"Realtors don’t read"

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?

About Andrew Kantor

Andrew is VAR's editor and information manager, and -- lessee now -- a former reporter for the Roanoke Times, former technology columnist for USA Today, and a former magazine editor for a bunch of places. He hails from New York with stops in Connecticut, New Jersey, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Roanoke.
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14 Responses to "Realtors don’t read"

  1. Jeremy Hart says:

    I’ll jump into this, but don’t know how it’ll fit.

    One of the things that really gets me with Commonwealth is that it’s the same format, every month. Same sequence of columns/stories, with a “continued on page X” at the bottom of each page, even when the story obviously carries over to the next page. I realize that’s just picking, but since there’s a forum …

    I don’t think that charts and graphs are the way to go … what about pieces that convey real value on how to work through today’s market? Across the state, markets are generally down. Real life flavor of how members are thriving and succeeding would be interesting. Or how they’re using social media as a result of the piece done a few months ago. Couple of ideas, hope there are a ton more.

    And for the record, despite my annoyance at the layout, I’m still a reader not a skimmer. :)

  2. Jim Rake says:

    Variety – not necessary. Layout, while it may look nice, will it get me to read, and maybe more importantly, keep the issue? “Value Added” articles seem to work best. Can it assist me in doing my job more effectively….better, faster, cheaper? What are other states doing differently, perhaps more effectively, and why?
    At the end of the day, Jeremy probably says it best, “what about pieces that convey real value on how to work through today’s market?” And, I might add, are there indications or trends of where we’re headed, whether its Realtor education, technology, or practices?

  3. One of the changes I initiated when I came aboard as VAR’s CEO in 2005 was to transition the magazine from a publication that was ABOUT VAR to one that was about our members. It’s more than a subtle difference. I honestly don’t think the bulk of our members want to read long, lucid stories about how great VAR is; I think they want to read about themselves and people like themselves and learn from one another. And so we try mightily to make our members and the issues you deal with day-in, day-out the real focus of the mag. As state asn publications go, we’re no doubt one of the better ones, but as Andrew suggests…we still wonder sometimes if anyone is really reading us…

  4. Jeremy Hart says:

    I’m reading, Scott, I’m reading.

  5. Excellent. Jeremy plus Jim. That’s two! Only 36,498 to go! ;-)

  6. Claude Labbe says:

    One way to generate more readership is to write controversial stories. I don’t think this will work for you, though it works for the tabloids.

    College alumni magazines which have good readership are those which have dialogs with their readers, where there is a healthy exchange of letters & opinions. When I’m reading the local paper, I also tend to prefer reader’s letters and the Opinion/Editorial pages. Those are the pages with photos or game scores, but those are the pages that make me “think”.

    In conclusion, pieces which generate thinking w/o controversy for the sake of controversy.

  7. Bob Jurgensen says:

    36,497 Scott – I am reading it too – cover to cover. Especially Lem’s tales…

  8. Three points….

    1. I’ve talked to two agents recently who said they have no need for the magazine now that the Buzz has more information – that may just be a generational issue.

    2. Most folks go right to Lem’s articles because they are right-now stuff about who to do business. I would recommend more “how-to’s” like in computer magazines. For example, when I see 25 cool free things to do on the web” I’ll pickup PC Magazine. But if it’s a new technology piece from MS or how to make Vista faster – I’ll save my $8 and go google it online.

    3. I honestly don’t care about how successful another agent in Virginia is or 20 under 20 etc… Give me an article from Lem or Chip about MLS and short sales, VRLTA or the new POA changes and I’m there. I get inundated with industry magazines everyday – I HAVE to skim, or FAAR would have to pay me just read everyday. I like Q and A’s, How-tos and what’s new in the industry. All the rest is an ad for the publisher – many of us applauded the “Commonwealth’s” change when it became less ego-centric.

  9. Oh yeah…. Also consider putting blog posts from the previous month in each publication. I think you’ll find that with few exceptions, there are two different audiences here, but both would benefit from many of the posts that are made here.

    (BTW Andrew, it was nice meeting you in the hall today – You’re doing a GREAT job!)

  10. Julie Emery says:

    I read, which admittedly makes me a freak. So, maybe it’s going to be tough to get useful answers as the people you’re trying to reach won’t read this and respond?!

    I appreciate the focus on us, the members, but only to the extent they can teach me something. The magazine has to help me improve my business, teach me something and has to do that quickly. I’m typically reading as I eat breakfast or as I’m waiting for a client to show up. I prefer short pieces with actionable content.

    I’d like to see more about best practices at the local association level. I know it’s a small percentage of members involved, but I’m not sure what other forum there is for getting that information out. And, hopefully some of that content would prompt more interest in participating. If the local association boards aren’t reading it, maybe members will see it and use it to lobby for change!

  11. Like Julie I am a confessed “reader” but unlike the rest of the excellant posts, writing is not my “thing”. All the current posts have points worth considering. Yes, the magazine has improved considerably with the focus on members and not VAR, and yes, Lem is my favorite (sorry, Scott, I read you second) but in everything I select off the shelf in the bookstore to read, the cover draws me in, the snappy titles to the articles pull me further and then short (yes short) thought provoking pieces satisfy the read and spur further interest in investigating the topic.

  12. This is wonderful, wonderful stuff — and believe me, I’m listening very hard to what you all are saying. The good thing is that it’s jibes nicely with the ideas I was kicking around. Not perfectly, though, so I’m going to have to rethink some ideas and make room for others.

    @Matthew: I was planning to suggest exactly that — maybe something along the lines of “If you had read VARbuzz, you would have seen….”

    Lem’s section is clearly a hands-down favorite. So now I need to figure what to glean from that.

    What about adding something similar but with ethics instead of the law?

  13. I read, even about the housing market.

    I would prefer to read more information about our affiliates.

    I do enjoy reading about other REALTORS©.

    Candy’s recent post How a simple question on zoning turned into a lesson on Agency excited me because of Lem’s response(s). I feel that we are battling a war within ourselves on legal law ( what is our legal obligation) and moral law ( what is our role to the client). Some form of debate between Lem and an ethic’s professor might be timely.

  14. Each month I add my new real estate magazines to my pile of other real estate magazines that I need to read. Now that summer is here, I should finally catch up on my reading/skimming. It takes me a while to get through each magazine because I have to read the articles slowly and carefully.

    I’m still new to this so I am looking for law issues, new ideas, article to write about, issues to implement, etc…

    I must say though, that once I finished last month’s Commonwealth magazine, I sat there and said, “It was all the same articles I’ve already read from VAR Buzz or other places.”

    Now the reminder of some of the articles was nice, but it really did seem repetitive to me. My time is precious – as it is for all of us. We have to take classes, keep up with clients, read articles, family, other non-business related activities… As we know, it’s not 9-5!

    When I sit down with my cup of coffee, I want new ideas that I can implement into my business, update on applying the law (that you Lem!, and what’s coming up (law changes, contract changes, new classes,…)

    I guess most of this is already in the Commonwealth. It just seemed repetitive this past month. Still can’t wait to read the new edition that arrived a couple days ago!

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