Respect the reader: Mandy Brown

Respect the reader: Mandy Brown

Mandy Brown knows reading. Co-founder of A Book Apart and community manager for web font company Typekit, she lives in the world of the highly literate.

In her talk “A Web Designed for Readers,” Mandy discussed how for centuries people have been trying to find visual ways to organize texts and connect ideas and thinking to each other. The web was the biggest advancement of this, allow the kind of interconnectedness of content that had never before been possible. The internet aimed to make content:

  • Dispersed (content is available to everyone in the world and is relatively timeless, especially compared to
  • Shareable (content is inherently created and formatted to be shared)
  • Connected (“the proliferation of links is what makes the web so powerful”)
  • Liberated (instead of being stuck on a shelf, content is free to to be used and shared across time and space)
  • Sustainable

The last bullet leads in to the main point of Mandy’s talk, looking at the two sides of the sustainability of online content. On one hand, we need to find a way to monetize (to use one of the jargony “-ize” words heartily rejected by other conference speakers) online content in order to keep it around at all. On the other hand, our attempts to do so have led us to do an exceedingly poor job at creating a sustainable reading experience online.

Pay walls, such as the infamous one recently instated by The New York Times, and obnoxious “takeover” ads are tactics that, in Mandy’s opinion, are probably not long for this world. She points to ads that “respect the reader experience” as being models for where online advertising is going — such as those created by the Deck advertising network and FusionAds. These ads are discreet, attractive, and may be more valued by readers who find and click on them because they’re interested in them (as opposed to harassed readers who just want the ads to go away).

“There is a way people are paying for things now that I think we need to pay attention to,” Mandy said. She points to a platform such a Kickstarter, which lets people find projects they believe in and want to support contribute to funding and get special benefits (access to videos, blogs, and other special content) as a supporter. Another model she uses as an example is Pinboard, an alternative to delicious which is a fee-based bookmarking site that charges a startup fee based on the number of registered users — so the earlier you adopt it, the less you pay.

People pay for content they want and ideas they believe in. Mandy made the case for finding harmony between the need to fund the publishing and upkeep of quality online content and the need to create a reading experience that keeps readers engaged — by experimenting with different models that will ultimately result in a more sustainable web for readers.

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