Author   |    Speaker   |    Chief Content Officer


A messaging app investing in writing is a little baffling and weird, isn’t it?

Today Snapchat launches online magazine Real Life, in which a staff of five writers publish long-form essays and narratives about life with technology.

It’s headed by social scientist and researcher Nathan Jurgenson, who says Real Life “won’t be a news site with gadget reviews or industry gossip. It will be about how we live today and how our lives are mediated by devices.”

A messaging app investing in writing is a little baffling, isn’t it?

So why is an instant messaging app dominated by impermanent selfies and video suddenly investing in writing? When 100 million daily active users can turn images of themselves into a taco or a pooch or a baby, isn’t the very idea of reading kind of… well, basic, as my teens say?

Said another way: in a disappearing-photo, 10-second-video Snapchat world… isn’t writing pedantic and ordinary?

And perhaps cerebral? Again, from Nathan:

I’ve argued that “online” and “offline,” like “body” and “mind,” aren’t like two positions on a light switch—a perspective I’ve called digital dualism. Instead, all social life is made of both information and material; it’s technological and human, virtual and real. Together with friends and colleagues, I’ve theorized an experience of the internet based less in cyberpunk and more in body horror—and not just horror but other things too, like joy.

Or from an essay today on emojis: “Animative expressive forms are the new normal.”

Whoa, right? Kind of brainy.

But also kind of insightful—at least about Snapchat’s possible motivation for investing in long-form narrative and comparatively old-school tactics like writing and editing and… well, thought.

It puts Snapchat (the app) in a bigger context. And it puts Snapchat (the company) at the center of a much bigger conversation. Such a bigger conversation that even I am having a hard time relegating it to merely content marketing. (And I’m a big proponent of long-form content, especially as an extension of marketing.)

With Real Life, Snapchat is summer cannon-balling into the deep end of the pool. It’s making a splash in deeper waters because, according to its notion of self, Snapchat isn’t a silly app for teens or a nascent marketing tool.

Taking Snapchat Seriously

Instead, Snapchat is a key part of a revolution we are all living. For better or worse, technology fundamentally changes the way we do everything: the way we communicate, work, and live.

And Snapchat intends to both codify and comment on the revolution, while plunking itself down in the middle of it.

Its position is unique, because it’s part embedded journalist observing from the trenches, and part soldier driving the tank.

It’s not planting the revolutionary flag in just messaging, either. It’s already dabbling with augmented reality without actually calling it that.

Snapchat bought a Google glass-like company called Vergence Labs, and it’s been hiring talent from Microsoft, Google, Qualcomm, and Nokia, which could be a signal that it’s looking to further its augmented-reality tech, according to Business Insider.

Snapchat has tapped into something important; it’s not just another social media platform. Again, for better or worse.

Some business reasons

Of course, you could also look at the pure business reasons for the magazine:

  • Real Life might attract people older than Snapchat’s huge millennial, GenZ base.
  • Real Life gives Snapchat a desktop, non-mobile presence.
  • Real Life could expand Snapchat’s ad inventory (and therefore add revenue).

But, right now, it seems focused on bigger context and bigger ideas. Which wouldn’t be the first time a tech company has tried on bigger pants.

Ev Williams founded Medium, he said, to build a deeper understanding of what matters in the world.

Five years ago, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey talked about Twitter in almost existential terms, less as company and more as a movement. What is Twitter? “It’s different things to different people at different times,” he said at a conference then.

Later, Dorsey clarified: “Twitter is live: live commentary, live connections, live conversations.”

Of course, Twitter has struggled to figure out exactly how to monetize a philosophy. Snapchat is well on its way to figuring out how to monetize itself, and is only now turning to the bigger questions.

The kind of questions that extend beyond their business model and beyond marketing, and get to the heart of who its customer—and all of us—are. And, more important, who we are becoming.

Focus Group Feedback

P.S. I asked a Gen Z focus group what it thought of Snapchat’s Real Life magazine. This focus group is a sample size of one, and she lives in my house.

Here is the conversation, reprinted verbatim, for the sake of science:

Researcher: “Did you hear about Snapchat’s new magazine?

Focus group of 1: “No. No one looks at Discover stories.”

Researcher: “No, it’s a magazine they are publishing as a standalone website, about life and technology.”

Focus group of 1: “Why? It’s a dumb idea. Snapchat needs to step back in their lane. No one reads magazines.”

Researcher: “Grownups read magazines. What if they’re looking to attract older people?”

Focus group of 1: “Is this one of your marketing questions? Would you read it? I mean—would you read it, if you weren’t you?”


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30 Responses to Why Snapchat Is Launching a Magazine

  1. Jeremy Victor says:

    I often ask myself this, “Would I read this if I weren’t me?” — your daughter has asked you a very meta question.

  2. Pingback: Why Snapchat Is Launching a Magazine - Ann Hand...

  3. “For better or worse, technology fundamentally changes the way we do everything: the way we communicate, work, and live.” I love this so much, I want to marry it!

    Thank you for making the conversation about technology so HUMAN, Ann.

  4. Pete says:

    Great blog Ann! 🙂

  5. I could probably ‘understand’ the reason for Snapchat launching a REAL LIFE magazine. But I’m blown away by the subject matter it is choosing to take ownership of. Totally future oriented, it is plugging its identity into a rocket… boom! ready to fly off into Tomorrowland sooner than one can imagine.

    Thank you for this great insightful read. And yes, your focus group could be onto something. 🙂

    • Ann Handley says:

      What’s interesting to me is the idea of putting Snapchat in a bigger context. So it’s not about apps or platforms or disappearing selfies… instead it’s a bigger play: How is technology changing our lives?

      Thanks for swinging by, Meenakshi!

  6. Scott Duehlmeier says:

    Love this Ann! Great post!

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  11. Jeffy says:

    Really nice information you had posted. Its very informative and definitely it will be useful for many people

  12. Ashok says:

    Insightful post, good example of how the ying and yang of digital and traditional can work synergystically

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  15. Sara Hunt says:

    This information was not all that surprising to me; it seems like a natural next step for a company expanding as largely as Snapchat. Diversifying themselves outside of just the app is smart. Love the quote about “digital duality,” and it does seem that is the reality we all live in today: balancing our online and offline lives. Great article and happy to hear Snapchat is building themselves in a manner where they can be taken more seriously!

  16. Kenzie H. says:

    This is a very interesting idea by Snapchat. I personally have had my ups and downs with this app. I have deleted my account or app on my phone at least 3 times but at the current moment I am back on the Snapchat train. I could understand why the company would like to expand. When I first heard of it I didn’t think its popularity would last longer than a few months to a year. Clearly I was wrong. Expanding to something new is understandable, but to print? I am not sure this will be the best idea. When I think magazine I picture all the stacks of magazines I give a short glance when standing in line at the grocery store. Who knows, this could lead to print becoming more popular again, but that is highly debatable. Great article!

  17. Sanjay Rema says:

    It does not make sense at first, it seems like the company is moving backwards, but it is simply more opportunity for them. There is only so much a company can do as a messaging app and I fell like this will increase their bottom line at the end of the day, no matter how successful or seemingly unsuccessful it ends up being.

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  19. Paulina Famiano says:

    I think Snapchat is trying to expand their target markets. The picture and video features obviously is targeted at the younger generation. It is meant to be entertaining and a way for this generation to connect with friends in a non-traditional way. However, Snapchat’s magazine would engage with a broader market. This would be more targeted at the older generations and would be a way for Snapchat to connect with these generations. Not a lot of social platforms are targeted at older generations, therefore I think Snapchat saw this as an opportunity in the industry and their company to expand their brand. However I do see a downside to creating this magazine. Snapchat has positioned themselves to be this fun, goofy app to connect with friends. Writing a magazine may blur their positioning in the market.

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  22. Maddie Benner says:

    I am a senior in college who is taking a strategic social media class and I have to say that I was not aware of Snapchat creating a magazine. I know this article is from the summer which makes me feel really behind. That being said, I think it is an interesting path for them to take and could be more beneficial if it reached my generation as well. I would definitely be interested in hearing and following their new advancements to their brand. Thanks for a great and informative read!

  23. William Patrick says:

    I found this post to be an interesting read. Although this was written several months ago, this is the first time I have heard about Snapchat’s magazine. I feel like it could be a great opportunity for them to capture an older audience, and, as you mentioned, lead to additional revenue.

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