Quartz’s latest special project is a $35 hardcover book

September 6, 2017
Category: Business & Work

With its insider-y lingo and unending stream of numbers, business news isn't the most reader-friendly beat in the journalism industry.

That's one of the reasons why Quartz is now selling a book that explains the global economy using objects — things readers can literally grasp — as its focal point.

"Quartz: The Objects that Power the Global Economy," is the Atlantic Media-owned company's first foray into print, part of an expansion into new advertising initiatives. Quartz is printing 5,000 copies of the $35 book to start and expects to break even on the experimental endeavour, said Lauren Brown, special projects editor at Quartz.

"Quartz talks a lot about how there's GDP and the S&P, and there's all these measures of the economy, and they're all kind of squishy," Brown said. "…We're trying to give some substantial ways for measuring the global economy that feels grounded in a reality that makes sense to people."

The book, which features full-bleed photography, an embossed hardcover and thick, textured paper, describes 10 objects transforming the global economy. It has tactile features that you could only get from a book — readers can "mine" bitcoin by hand and run their fingers over a fold-out map satellite orbits, for example. Qualcomm, the telecommunications company that sponsored the book, gets a section about the company role in mobile communications.

For Quartz, a digitally native publication that was on track to pull in more than $30 million last year, the book fits into a philosophy of ongoing experimentation among business and editorial staffers, Brown said. Quartz isn't planning a broader expansion into print products, but it's game to tackle one-off projects if the conditions are right.

"I don't think from a strategic perspective we're saying, 'oh, we need to corner the print market,'" Brown said.

Other digital publications have also made forays into print in recent months. Last year, BuzzFeed launched a cookbook for Tasty, its social-first food publication, that sold more than 100,000 copies. Atlas Obscura, a digital publisher that guides users to exotic locales, published an ink-and-paper atlas last year. And Skift, a digital chronicler of the travel industry, is launching a book to coincide with its five-year anniversary.

These are all special cases, however — the days of print as an advertising mainstay are numbered. With some exceptions, U.S.-based media companies are staking their fortunes on attracting revenue through various digital initiatives, including subscription, branded content and e-commerce. A Financial Times story published Tuesday night reported that Quartz is now profitable and projects advertising revenue growth in the double digits this year.

The conception, design and launch of the book was a big undertaking that required buy-in from the entire staff, said Caitlin Hu, visual culture editor at Quartz. It opened up storytelling possibilities that aren't usually afforded to digital publishers, she said.

"Imagine you're writing a story and, in addition to the editorial development, you have the opportunity to decide what texture of paper conveys the characters that are speaking best," Hu said. "Or, what data visualization on the previous page sets the stage for the lede that's going to start your story?"

Although the book is an interesting experiment in selling content directly to readers, don't expect to see Quartz hawking $12 Zazzle T-shirts anytime soon. "We wouldn't get into a retail situation just for the revenue," Brown said. "It would have to make sense from the core principles of Quartz."