NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Birthplace Magazine was created with a mission: to highlight the best of New York hip hop. The name comes from New York’s status as the musical genre’s hometown. Built on a solid foundation of ideas and expertise, the website has gained momentum, but now faces a number of marketing and editorial challenges before it can continue to expand.
Manny Faces, the site’s founder and editor, was motivated to start Birthplace Magazine when the hip hop industry (and the media’s coverage of it) branched away from New York to California and elsewhere, creating a void in local hip hop coverage. “New York didn’t have a strong centralized representation for this genre, which felt ironic to me because New York is the birthplace of hip hop–what’s now a world wide multi-billion industry,” says Faces.
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Since its launch in 2008, the online publication has successfully carved out a niche in providing information on hip hop music, artists, events, and other aspects of the industry that have a connection to the New York metropolitan area. One of the characteristic features of Birthplace is the series “5 Reasons Why New York Hip Hop Doesn’t Suck.” Faces started the column in 2010 in response to claims that the New York scene was “washed up.” When the first “5 Reasons” was published it quickly became the most read story on the site.
Content for the website is almost entirely produced by Faces. While he works full-time as online production manager for the Long Island Press, Faces still manages to keep the events calendar updated and post an average of three articles a day. The biggest frustration, he says, is that he can’t do more. With a committed editorial staff of two–Faces and contributor Steven Ortiz, neither of whom draw a salary–and a handful of occasional writers, there’s a limit to how much further the website can develop.
Birthplace Magazine still straddles the line between a news publication and a blog. The beige and maroon WordPress theme is clean, but lacks branding. Advertisements run through Google’s AdSense network pay pennies per view, and on a good month that can bring in hundreds of dollars, but no more, says Faces. The money goes back into site hosting fees, travel expenses, and marketing materials, and there’s never been any leftover to pay writers. Faces runs the site as a sole proprietorship.
What ultimately makes Birthplace a professional site is that many stories feature original, in-depth reporting. Writers provide brief coverage of spot music news in the “Quickies” section, but stories in other sections of the site are typically much longer, ranging from 400 words to upwards of 3,000. It’s about practicing good journalism and not trying to get the most page views possible,” Faces says. “I don’t want to just do trend-based reporting.”
Birthplace Magazine’s monthly unique visitor count varies, but is typically between 20,000 and 50,000, according to Faces. With a very tight budget, Birthplace Magazine relies on social media for marketing. Content is promoted through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr. The website is also featured on the New York Times City Room blogroll and is syndicated through Google news, which Faces says drives a lot of traffic. Posting the latest viral music video, whether it’s New York themed or not, also “keeps our numbers steady,” he says.
But for many readers the real value of Birthplace Magazine comes from the coverage of grassroots hip hop. This work is what won the publication the prize for “Best Music Website” in 2010 at the New York Music Awards, which issued its first awards in 1986 and began again in 2010 after a brief hiatus. “I’ve got to take care of the underground. It’s not good for traffic but it gets me love,” Faces says. “These artists are crazy talented but nobody knows. So I have to make sure that we’re where you go to find those artists.”
Birthplace Magazine has the potential to grow. The site has already garnered a solid following, and with additional marketing and research Faces says Birthplace is well situated to become “the undisputed source for New York hip hop news.” The editor even has his sights set on exporting the local online hip hop magazine concept beyond the city’s borders, where he’ll undoubtedly encounter stiff competition.
“The whole idea is that if I can make it here I can make it anywhere,” says Faces. “This is replicable. So if I could find a way to finish the pilot model here and sustain it monetarily, we could expand.” But for now, the goal is to focus on New York, bringing Birthplace Magazine to core readers and bringing up and coming hip hop artists into the limelight.
Birthplace Magazine Data
Name: Birthplace Magazine