One of the oldest legacies in magazine journalism, National Geographic Magazine, is having it’s 125th anniversary this year. To celebrate, they’re highlighting the driving force behind the magazine: photography. They’re hosting a huge crunchy speaker series in Arizona, their October issue is full of their best photography, and they’re highlighting some of the best work on their website.
And oh yeah – like every 13-year-old girl, they made a Tumblr. And I think it’s one of the smartest things they’ve ever done.
I know what you’re all thinking about Tumblr, and I want you to throw it out the window. If you’re an adult like me, NatGeoFound is probably the coolest Tumblr feed you’ve ever seen. It’s a daily helping of photography from throughout NatGeo’s history, with every picture dated and captioned. Scrolling down the feed is nothing short of an intense experience.
And as I’ll argue after the photography break, getting on Tumblr fits National Geographic’s strategic plans in a number of beautiful ways. The photos in this post (barring the GIF of Gary Coleman) came from NatGeoFound. Check out the feed. I know it will be hard, but please come back.
Photography has long been the cornerstone of National Geographic. They’ve successfully positioned themselves as the leading force in photojournalism, and many a user has been enthralled by their work. The Tumblr feed is mesmerizing.
Another interesting aspect of National Geographic Magazine is their forward-thinking bent. I guess you don’t last 125 years without learning something. Making this Tumblr signals NatGeo’s focus on adapting to the digital future of journalism, something hinted at in this interview with NatGeo Editor-in-Chief Chris Johns. He really showed NatGeo’s digital aspirations in this quote:
“We aim to be the leader in visual factual entertainment. The blurring of the lines between photography and video and between print and digital platforms has created a rich environment for us to experiment with immersive storytelling that amplifies voice and helps people connect more deeply with our coverage across editorial and social platforms.”
So why is this Tumblr a good idea? Let’s explore with a list.
If they want to stay relevant, they need to engage a younger audience. Flip through a NatGeo and you’ll notice almost all the magazines are geared towards an older demographic. The median subscriber age is around 45, according to their own measurements. And I hate to be morbid, but let’s be realistic: these folks are gonna die eventually. Nat Geo Kids is cool and all, but most of those subscriptions are coming from parents who already have their kid hooked on the actual magazine.
Having a Tumblr is a fantastic way to engage an audience that is probably heavily invested in the internet already. Get them hooked on Nat Geo photography now and they’ll be readers for life. Speaking of photography…
Tumblr is a visual platform. It’s driven by images, even if most of these images are sepia-tone shots of vintage crap overlaid with words.
Still, Tumblr users have an appreciation for photography, and while they may end up slapping some pithy quotes on these photos, Nat Geo has an untapped audience here. Hell, they have an untapped audience all over the internet, because…
Everyone is visually oriented. Videos, GIFs, photos, tweets – the internet is shifting towards a culture of easily digested visual content. And that’s no surprise, considering human beings are visually-oriented creatures. Maybe that’s one factor in National Geographic’s massive success so far.
The best part about this Tumblr is the symbolism. Nat Geo is really following through with their plan to establish a powerful internet presence, which is refreshing. A year ago then-CEO John Fahey hinted at the potential end of a print product, and I couldn’t believe it. Even making this Tumblr is a good step forward for the magazine, and it represents a level of quality and forethought missing from other major publishers. Lets hope the new CEO, former NPR man Gary Knell, is just as innovative.
Take a hint, magazine world. Nat Geo is old as dirt and is still whipping all your butts.