NEW YORK, NY — Brooklyn-based editor and publisher Mary D’Ambrosio has taught a graduate level summer travel writing course at New York University for the past decade. A couple of years ago, she noticed something about her students’ work: she liked it better than the usual travel magazine fare.
“They weren’t going to write ‘Ten Hot Hotels in Rome,'” she says. “They were going to write some sort of cultural story about what made Rome tick.”
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D’Ambrosio, who is also an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, saw a market niche for such writing, and launched Big World Magazine in 2009.
Big World’s content–long-form essays, photographs, video, and multimedia packages–is an eclectic mix. Recent stories include China’s reaction to Starbucks culture; a profile of Fossombrone, Italy’s hard-working priest who performs 15 exorcisms a week; a British equestrian’s first-person account of a trek across Mongolia; and a photo essay by a Hong Kong-based photographer capturing portraits of manual laborers in the Indian port city of Kochi.
Until this year, Big World had relied on free content solicited through students, networking, LinkedIn, and word of mouth. There’s not much need for that anymore, however. After announcing that Big World would pay a small fee for stories, D’Ambrosio began to receive several hundred submissions a month–far more than she could use.
“It bowled me over,” she says of the response to Big World’s becoming a paying market.
The site pays a $75 honorarium for a story package that includes a written piece and any associated parts, such as photos or video; a 50 percent cut of any syndication fees; and a free listing in Big World’s correspondents directory–which editors can use to find freelancers in a given region. D’Ambrosio estimates the combined value of this compensation at $250.
For D’Ambrosio, paying writers is “both a matter of principle, and an investment in attracting stronger work.”
“We started planning Big World Magazine in about 2007, before we had any idea of what would happen on the income side,” she says. “But I promised to give our first money to the contributors, so when we began to attract a little advertising, I kept that promise.”
Big World claims a geographically diverse annual readership of 12,000, with 56 percent of visitors coming from the US. Despite the small traffic number, the site boasts a “good” Google page rank of 5 (the lowest is 1 and the highest is 10). Readers can also sign up to get a “Story of the Week” by email.
The site struggles to attract advertising and other revenue.
“Right now I’m the business side, and the advertising we get is what we can get, by me or my contacts,” D’Ambrosio says.
The site’s direct sale display ads go for a set monthly fee that ranges from $150 to $250 per month depending on size and placement. The site also offers text link ads, a sponsorship for the weekly newsletter, and promotional tweets from the official Big World twitter account. The twitter service starts at $25 for three tweets per day.
Aspiring web moguls, take note: Big World consumes more editorial time than D’Ambrosio first thought it would. That amount has only increased since she the magazine started to pay contributors. She would like to hire another editor, but isn’t yet sure when that will happen.
She continues to have big ambitions for Big World. She values traditional magazine-style narrative, but she also sees Big World as a venue for storytellers to branch out and experiment with multimedia.
“When individuals have an opportunity to produce the stories or journalism that they really want, the writing can be really great,” she says.
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