Brands

Why ​Basecamp Just Launched an Online Magazine That Shuns Technology

You wouldn’t expect a project management software company to tell the story of Chicago’s last leather tannery. But Basecamp (previously 37Signals) has always done things a little differently.

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The Distance, Basecamp’s brand-new online magazine, is a slow-cooked, longform publication that will publish one story a month about companies that have been in business for 25 years or longer—and, like Basecamp, have bootstrapped without outside investment. It will not feature Basecamp users—or any tech companies at all, in fact.

The Distance’s inaugural issue instead focuses on Horween Leather Company and tells a rich narrative about the history of the company through photographs, drawings, and even a video where Vice President Nick Horween explains the difference between the durable Shell Cordovan and other leathers.

Basecamp has always gone against the grain, remaining proudly bootstrapped in Chicago with a remote workforce instead of setting up shop in Silicon Valley and courting investors. While other companies seek rapid growth and acceleration, Basecamp has deliberately remained small.

One might think that these decisions come from a philosophy of fiscal responsibility, but launching an online magazine wholly unrelated to Basecamp’s product doesn’t seem to naturally follow. In fact, you could argue that The Distance isn’t content marketing for Basecamp at all. Though an editorially compelling and visually stunning magazine may be interesting fodder for a wide variety of people, it’s not exactly something that Basecamp prospects would be seeking out, nor is it designed to move them through a sales funnel. Those types of content marketing efforts are limited to Basecamp’s long-running and widely read blog, Signal vs. Noise.

Basecamp has given Wailin Wong, the sole journalist at Basecamp and full-time writer and editor of The Distance, free reign—a rarity in the brand publishing world.

“When I hear about some things and bounce something off of [Basecamp CEO] Jason [Fried], I’ll ask, ‘Does that sound cool?’ He’ll say, ‘Yeah, that sounds cool.’ That’ll be the longest conversation that we’ll have about a company because they’re just really trusting me to find the stories,” says Wong.

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For Wong, a veteran journalist of ten years at Dow Jones Newswires and the Chicago Tribune, writing full-time for Basecamp constitutes a big transition. But it’s also easy to see why the magazine’s focus on longform narrative appeals to her. In her six years as a beat reporter at the Chicago Tribune, Wong was responsible for churning out breaking news stories, often at the expense of her lon-form projects. “You sit down to work on some 2,000, 3,000-word opus, and you’re hoping to craft your sentences really carefully, and then, all of a sudden, there’s 15 news things breaking on your beat and then you lose your week,” she explains.

Readers may enjoy the stories, and Basecamp may mine insights from them, but it’s hard to see how investing resources in The Distance will yield the type of ROI most companies look for in content marketing efforts. Basecamp CEO Jason Fried instead seems to be operating from a greater vision. “These people are our heroes and we want their stories to be told,” he explains. “I want to read these stories. It’s aligned with us in that we aim to be a long-term business, too.”

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Image by Santi Molina
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