Features November 9, 2017

Exclusive: Inside lnwy.co, Laneway’s new venture into digital publishing

Exclusive: Inside lnwy.co, Laneway’s new venture into digital publishing

Laneway Festival is expanding into online publishing, with a new website launched today in partnership with digital agency Bolster.

With the tagline READ WATCH LISTEN, Lnwy.co (pronounced “Laneway dot co”) is a content platform producing longform features and profiles, videos, and playlists. Run by Bolster’s newly appointed head of content and former Junkee Media EIC Darren Levin, the site’s focus is on music discovery and “evergreen” longform stories, rather than news and other quick-turnaround content.

“[Laneway Festival] had this huge social audience that [they] were only engaging for a few months out of the year,” Levin explains. “And so, I guess the idea behind this platform is to engage that audience year-round. And to continue the conversation with them after the festival is finished.”

Levin, Laneway co-founder Danny Rogers and Bolster co-director Alex Zaccaria sat down with TMN for an exclusive walkthrough earlier this week, prior to the live launch at midday today.

The team designed the platform to be clean, versatile, and intuitive, with a “digital coffee table book” feel: white space, crisp little animations, customisable layouts that allow for more flexible storytelling. Levin’s profile of Father John Misty is muted and moody; a Jeff Weiss deep dive into the early days and rise of Odd Future is a full-screen blast of colour and illustrations. 

Zaccaria highlights features like the infinite-scroll “video vortex” that pulls social-hosted videos (including Facebook-hosted autoplay clips) into a lightbox format, and integrated audio that allows users to hover over linked text to hear 30-second snippets via Apple Music. Navigation sidebars allow users to toggle between the most recent content and the pieces generating the most activity on social, with data pulling every five minutes. And the site will eventually learn from users’ consumption habits, in order to recommend a mix of familiar and new artist content.

Instead of selling ads, the platform will be supported by an integrated native content model, including integrations with the audio player and brand-supported longform pieces, with brands partnering with lnwy.co for long-term partnerships rather than one-off campaigns.

Brands – including “foundation partner” Blundstone – will benefit from the same data-gathering functions of the site that will power personalised recommendations (which will roll out in the coming weeks alongside the first of the native content), tracking consumption as well as clicks and engagement.

The contributor roster so far includes respected local music journos including Walkley-winning critic Kate Hennessy, Melbourne-based writer Brodie Lancaster and The Age’s Chris Johnston, as well as LA-based writers like Weiss and Katie Bain, plus acclaimed Sydney photographers Cybele Malinowski and Dan Boud.

Levin says that the benefit of not doing news or topical content is that resources, including in-house time for creation, editing and design as well as the freelance budget, are able to be concentrated on the 5-10 pieces lnwy.co will publish per week, rather than dozens.

“It’s not about capitalising on the news cycle and kind of jumping on stories and getting quick turn arounds. If those opportunities present themselves and it kind of fits in with the Laneway audience, and the festival, then we’ll jump at it. But, yeah, this is a slow approach to publishing and ops, in much the same way as print magazines have a kind of long tail approach.

“I don’t feel like we are competing with others because we are not selling advertising in that classic way. We’re only running one, two stories a day that are focused pieces… We’re getting in on opportunities and hearing about opportunities early and will spend time with an artist in a studio, and then the piece might come out two months later.”

Levin’s particularly enthusiastic about being able to take risks more traditional music media can’t or won’t, like investing time and resources into longform stories on early-career acts.

“I think every artist has a story no matter what level they’re at.”

While there are provisions in the privacy policy for user information to be used to market ticket pre-sales, event recommendations and so on, Zaccaria says this is only “covering bases” at this point, and there are no concrete plans to roll out those features just yet.

There’s enormous potential for Laneway Festival and Laneway Touring to use the platform to promote their events and build buzz for artists, and Rogers says the site will certainly reflect the Laneway “taste and curation”, but the team insist Levin will have free rein and profiles will be “warts and all”; the focus on driving music discovery rather than criticism or click-driven news lends itself naturally to a positive slant.

“There is always that inherent link to the festival, they are completely separate properties,” says Zaccaria. “It’s absolutely not [designed to] market just the festival. It’s really built to have a 365-day-a-year platform to be able to just tell a story about these artists.”

“Danny has given me such a big broad scope to cover any artists,” adds Levin. “Laneway has always been about breaking really interesting and new artists into this country and I think that’s what we want to do with this platform as well.”

Rogers says that the Laneway Festival team’s approach to curating a mix of new and established artists translates naturally to the site; that it should be surprising, “and challenging as well – challenging ourselves, challenging people to kind of engage with music.”

“[There’s] a consistent sense that the festival is about discovery, it’s got a strong ethos… We thought that that reputation that we have as a festival curator could be reflected in how our approach to how we manage the site, the storytelling and the journalism, to the design, photography.”

Levin and Rogers cite groundbreaking music publisher Kobalt’s outside-the-box approach and Pitchfork’s expansion from publishing into events as inspirations within the industry. The latter were a festival partner in Laneway’s second and third years, and Rogers says a conversation with founder Ryan Schreiber when the Laneway and Pitchfork Festivals were both in their infancy clarified the approach for him.

“I was like, ‘So, you’re a website, but you’re a festival.’ And he just kind of looked up and he said, ‘We’re a brand.’

“I remember just thinking, ‘Fuck, that’s it – you are just this really great music voice, and it’s clear, consistent, high end, people like it, it’s aspirational in the music space. So those things, I thought, ‘OK, how do you do that?’.”

“We’re not trying to be [Pitchfork], it’s a completely different looking site, it’s a completely different approach. But it did show, that if you’ve got a brand that is already established, like Laneway is synonymous with great music and discovery and it’s consistently done that for a long time. It’s already got a formidable reputation in the music space, rather than creating a brand new name that no one has ever heard of and trying to build it up – so we thought why don’t we just use that?”

lnwy.co is live now.

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