Interviewer: Peter Houston
Peter: So what is Den of Geek?
Rosie: Den of Geek is an entertainment website mainly focusing on movies, TV, games and anything in geek culture really. It was founded in 2007, and part of the reason for how it was founded was a reaction to, at the time, quite a lot of websites that were a bit snarky and a bit mean, and not necessarily safe spaces.
Den of Geek was made as a place that really celebrated geek culture, that didn’t delight in deciding a film was going to be bad before it came out, but actually was just a place that people who love geek culture and entertainment can come together, talk and celebrate that.
Peter: How do you define geek culture? That’s a weird one.
Rosie: Well you know what, that is a weird one and that’s a really interesting question, because actually what geek culture was, and what geek culture is, isn’t the same thing. So geek culture now is pretty much anything. Well not anything, but geek culture is mainstream culture now. So whereas once it might have been considered a niche or a specialism, now a lot of mainstream culture is of course what you would consider geek culture.
I mean we don’t have a hard and fast definition, so while we do cover things like comic book movies and sci fi and horror, and that’s a big part of us, we also cover a lot of things like British drama, so we’ll cover Killing Eve, Line of Duty and Taskmaster and Peppa Pig.
So, I think it really is anything that somebody could really call themselves a fan of within that kind of popular culture sphere. I mean the only things we don’t really touch are, well, largely speaking we don’t touch reality. Although having said that Taskmaster is kind of that, I guess that’s a quiz and we don’t really touch soap operas.
Peter: So like Love Island is huge at the moment, you wouldn’t go near that?
Rosie: Well you say that, we wouldn’t go near it, except if we had a really really geeky angle on it. So actually a while ago, we did actually write an article on it and the headline to the Den of Geek article was ‘Love Island: Dystopian Breeding Camp or Romantic TV Idyll?‘, which was a funny thought piece by one of our very best writers.
So yeah we do touch on things sometimes, but it has to be kind of in our way.
Peter: You need an angle on it.
Peter: And is it the idea that what maybe used to be comic culture, the kind of people that went to conventions for comics or Star Trek or whatever. But then that’s kind of morphed into a much broader mainstream movement?
Rosie: Yeah absolutely. What I guess you used to call geek culture or nerd culture was something that used to be a niche and now has become enormous. So, there’s so many conventions around the world. But if you look at something like particularly San Diego Comic Con, which is the absolute epicentre of that kind of culture, and how it went from being essentially a comic convention to now being massively mainstream and attracting some of the biggest talent, A-list talent, working in the industry now, it’s absolutely huge.
So I mean it isn’t niche culture anymore. But it is still fan culture.
Peter: Going back to that Love Island thing with the angle. How do you decide what your angle is?
Rosie: So Den of Geek’s been around for 12 years now, and I think it has quite a strong USP and tone of voice, so we’ll always try and approach something in a way that others haven’t. We’re often quite irreverent, quite silly. We like stuff that’s funny, we like stuff that’s left field. So, said that article, the guy who wrote it absolutely genuinely loves Love Island. But this is a much more, funnier, interesting take on that sort of thing.
So with most articles we’ll look at the big shows and the big games and the big films that we want to cover, but we’ll try and think about it in a bit of a left field. And also often I guess a more positive way than rankings and explainers and things like that, although we do some of those.
Peter: I’m thinking some of the stuff as you’ve said it’s got bigger and bigger. Everyone’s going to be covering it. So from the newspapers to Digital Spy to magazines, men’s magazines, women’s magazines. Everyone’s going to have a take on these things, whether it’s an Avengers movie or whether it’s Love Island or whatever. So I guess you’ve got to be pretty focused to make sure that you’re not just churning out stuff that everyone else is?
Rosie: Yeah you’re absolutely right. So true. I mean, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and of course Endgame is almost the biggest culmination of that. And we want to cover it and we want to serve it properly. But we don’t want to just be the same as everyone else. And it is difficult, it is a very crowded marketplace.
So it isn’t a case of just doing the same as everyone else. It’s just trying to think of original opinion pieces, or even just different angles that are very ‘us’.
So for example, with Endgame and if you haven’t seen it this is a bit of a spoiler, so cover your ears! If you haven’t seen it yet, what are you thinking! I wanted to do an article on the rules of time travel within that film, because when I watched it I was confused, and I was like, ‘Well I don’t know exactly how this works’. And I’m not saying that no other site would do that.
But luckily I remembered a guy who I’d been at some kind of event who was a speaker, who was kind of a time travel expert. So the article he wrote is so good, and so intense, but I would struggle to find anything more interesting and more comprehensive about that aspect, and explaining how how that worked.
So it’s just trying to find a different way, and also to serve the readership, to make sure that we have something that’s interesting and that you come away with something, basically.
Peter: Does that come back to the talent that you can access, that you can find? The expert on time travel or or the expert on something that you’ve got to be very careful about who you’re commissioning?
Rosie: Yeah we have a pool of really good freelancers who we use. A lot of them have specialisms and are experts in things. But usually speaking, it was different with Chris, the time travel guy, because he’s also a journalist. But sometimes we will use experts who are like, a medical professional or something like that to bring in a different angle.
But yes I mean, essentially to your original point, it’s useful to have a nice strong pool of writers, so I know who’s good at what, who has the sort of specialist insider knowledge to be able to write something really comprehensive on a subject.
Peter: The thing that’s in the back of my mind I guess, is something like Game of Thrones, which has just finished. And you’re covering that for a period of time, I guess with Game of Thrones it’s a decade. Does something like that ending, does that cause you an issue?
Rosie: Well in the sense that when the series was ending that obviously was a massive traffic spike for us. So, in a way that is potentially something that we no longer can rely on, we can’t rely on spikes from Game of Thrones seasons, but I think everybody’s looking for the new Game of Thrones. Nobody really knows what’s going to come along and become massive. So those big shows are really important to us.
But we don’t just rely on that, I mean we have to make sure that we’re covering all sorts of different things. And we get odd spikes from things that you wouldn’t expect.
So I mean I mentioned Line of Duty and Killing Eve, they both do really well for us, but also streaming services are coming out with a lot of new shows, and there’s so much content coming out that it’s very difficult…you can’t watch everything. But we did quite well from Russian Doll for example, which was something that landed out of the blue. I just happened to binge it on the weekend. I completely adored it and wrote about that.
So there will always be other things that crop up that will be unexpected traffic drivers.
Peter: So it’s not about going hot and heavy on Game of Thrones and then all of a sudden going, ‘Oh my god what are we gonna do’.
Rosie: It is about going hot and heavy on Game of Thrones, don’t get me wrong! But then it’s about looking at what’s next. I’m working on an article about Black Mirror right now. I’m going to be writing something about a trend on Netflix to do with pulp TV and its resurgent popularity.
So there’ll always be other things like Good Omens, and then later in the year His Dark Materials. There’ll be other big flagship shows, they might not be as big as Thrones, but I think it’s about getting the right angle and tapping into things that people are talking about, essentially.
Peter: So your job, in that sense is to make sure you know what people are talking about, rather than give them something new to talk about, you know what I mean?
Rosie: Yeah I think I would agree with that. I mean that’s not to say we don’t publish interesting things that wouldn’t necessarily have occurred to you, but as a strategy in general it is very useful to have a strong sense of what people are interested in, and people are talking about. And of course it makes it easier for us that all of the staff are also fans.
So the things that people are talking about are the things that we are talking about, largely speaking, whether that be some weird show that’s just dropped on Netflix, or whether that be something as massive as Game of Thrones, you can quite easily get sort of a sense – and also from social media as well – of the things that are exciting people, that are buzzy.
It’s useful to be ahead of the curve though. So finding things that people don’t necessarily know are amazing, and flagging them up. So we’ll do lists of 30 films to watch next year. And within that list there’ll be some obscure things that people wouldn’t necessarily have on their radar. So I think it is important to have that as well.
Peter: So it’s that balance of being geeky enough to actually have those conversations?
Peter: Looking at the Website for Den of Geek, more on the commercial side actually rather than the actual content, they’re talking about having a hugely active audience and friendly core members, I love that, you’ve mentioned that friendly thing a couple times actually. Is that a big deal? Is it still about being a safe space for geeks?
Rosie: Yeah it’s a massive deal, and it’s extremely important to Den of Geek because we have a really active community in a way that no other website that I have worked on has. And it’s difficult. And it’s super important to maintain that.
Luckily our comment boards are quite good at self policing. So if somebody new turns up and is a bit horrible – because I can’t spend all my day moderating comments, I do have a look and I do try and get as involved as I can, but it’s just not practical, I can’t have 24/7 moderation – but you’ll often find that if someone comes in and is a bit mean, that another one of the users will gently say, reign it in and don’t do that.
I mean I can’t tell you it’s always 100 percent civilized, but one of the nicest things is, most of the time, most of the comments wIll be talking about the thing that the article is talking about. So we did a really lovely series in the lead up to EndGame in fact, and it was called the Marvel movies debrief, and it was doing big in-depth looks at all of the 21 movies in the run up. And the readers really liked it, but they also knew it was coming because it was regularly released, and were posting great big long, really lovely, really thought out critiques of these films that they’d clearly written beforehand! And it was great. It was super engaged, and really no one was being mean about the article – and the articles were really good – but they were also just talking to each other, and enjoying talking about what they liked about films and what they didn’t like.
I think for us at Den of Geek having that space for people to see something, or love something, or remember something, or revisit something, and knowing they have like-minded people to talk to about it is really what we’re all about.
Peter: What’s the secret there though, because when you look at comments boards or forums on other publications, it’s like this blasted wasteland of snark and vitriol. What’s the secret, how can you help the rest of the publishing world solve this problem?
Rosie: Well you know what, I can’t claim any credit for that because I inherited the brands a year ago, and it was something that my predecessor Simon, the founder, it was incredibly important to him, and I think that was really the USP, the point of the site in the first place, so I think he spent a lot of time really carefully, both moderating and cultivating, and keeping this a safe space.
But we also partly do it by not publishing things like, ’10 reasons why [xxx] is going to be rubbish’. We would never write an article like that. Or if a film…if there’s some kind of low budget indie that comes out and it’s rubbish, we just won’t review it because what’s the point of saying, ‘Oh here’s a film you never heard of, and it’s rubbish’. There’s just no value in that, we just basically really try to avoid snark, and really try to cultivate that community.
Peter: Does it ever go off on a tangent? Like Brexit is one that people go off and start chatting about Brexit?
Rosie: Yeah a little bit. Not hugely and I think that would be something that I would probably discourage. So there’s been an odd time when it’s been like, right this is off topic and it’s all getting a bit political. But I think generally speaking we try to sort of discourage that because people will fall out about things to do with the movie.
It’s like, stay on topic, this is an article about Dr. Who, let’s talk about Dr.Who, not about Brexit.
Peter: So one of the things that you do, I mean obviously you’ve got Den of Geek as a website, but then you’re also live on the social platforms, Facebook in particular. And does it still stay friendly on Facebook, or does it get a little bit different?
Rosie: It isn’t as friendly on Facebook. And also we can’t control that. So on Den of Geek I can delete and I can moderate. And yes, so I can’t control that quite as much. Still it’s not too bad. But the comment section on the actual website is the heartland of that really.
Peter: And so are you using social platforms to get people back to your own property?
Rosie: Well actually, sometimes. But more and more we’re producing native content for both Twitter and Facebook, and I think people like to engage that way. So whether it’s exclusive clips that maybe for a film that isn’t that huge, but the clips nice, that we would then just natively post on Facebook, or memes or discussion points. I think actually engaging with Facebook on Facebook is something that we are focused on.
Peter: So is that more about brand awareness, or are you actually making some money from it?
Rosie: Brand awareness I would say.
Peter: And then that community, which is clearly from what you’ve said so engaged and friendly online, are you trying to get them into live events, trying to get them out in the real world?
Rosie: Yeah we do actually. So again one of the lovely things about this brand that’s a lovely thing for me to have inherited, is that our readership do come to events and when they say they come, they will come. So we’ve run various screening events.
One I did run quite early on which was the Deadpool 2 Super Duper Cut. And I think we had a drop off of three people out of 150, which is just phenomenal! So yeah it’s lovely. We don’t use a third party system to recruit people, we do it manually, which is a bit time consuming but it just means that people turn up.
And they’re really nice people as well. So they turn up and they talk to you. And it just becomes quite a nice sort of social thing, and that’s something I think I’m keen to do more of actually, pushing forward I’m keen to make sure we can engage with people face to face as much as possible, because it’s lovely having such an engaged audience.
Peter: Do you think that’ll be mostly screenings, or is there other stuff that you can do?
Rosie: Well there’s other stuff we can do, but I can’t give you too much detail at this point, but there are a couple of things that are in the pipeline that are likely to be happening this year. Events is something that we’re really keen on and I think would be a really good fit for our readership. And so we’re looking at interesting ways to bring content to life, put it that way.
Peter: Did you do the print special for, was it the London Comic Con?
Rosie: Yes. So we’ve done, so it’s two a year. So one in May and one in October.=
Peter: Your background is print, so how’s that? Is it like a little holiday?
Rosie: Well it’s not a holiday, because obviously I’ve still got to run the website at the same time! But I can’t deny that it is quite nice to dip back into the print stuff. I love things like cover design and layouts and flat plans all that kind of stuff.
Peter: And to do the print specials go down well at the conferences?
Rosie: Oh yeah. Really well.
Peter: Are they conferences or conventions?
Rosie: Conventions. Yeah they go down really well, the readers really love them. The PRs in the studios really love them because I mean, I think there’s always just a value to seeing something in print, and that’s really really beautiful. We get really great access because of that.
So, we had Dark Phoenix on our most recent cover, we had Shazam on the cover before that. Both of them were supported by cast and director interviews, which is just fantastic, and they were off junket so it was all really lovely exclusive content.
Obviously at the cons, queuing is a thing crazy queuing, so much queuing! So it’s really nice, I mean we were handing out mags at the last one, and we were giving out some in an autograph queue. And the people were like, ‘Oh where were you an hour ago!’. There’s so much waiting around. So yeah they go down really well. It’s a really nice thing to be able to do really.
Peter: That’s a great idea. Well if you’ve got loads of people queuing, just give them your print stuff!
Rosie: Yeah absolutely. Captive audience! And also it’s really great for brand awareness, and we make sure that the mag really maintains the same tone of voice. So it still needs to be funny and irreverent and a little bit silly. I want the layouts to be gorgeous but I want the content to still have Den of Geek’s unique personality.
Peter: Is it original content? You don’t take stuff from online?
Rosie: It is largely speaking original content. I think there was one feature, which was an edited together piece based on the Marvel movies debrief in fact, so it was like the best scenes in all 22 of the movies. But that was edited together from 22 other features, but largely speaking, mostly it’s original content.
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