It's the first brand sponsorship for the company, which has its roots as a Twitter hashtag -- #longreads -- that founder Mark Armstrong thought up in 2009 and popularized as a way to crowdsource awareness of worthy immersive reads. (Twitter users linking to an in-depth article they like can include "#longreads" in their tweets to get their pick on Longreads' radar; the hashtag is particularly popular with glossy magazines that still invest in long-form journalism.)
Travelreads functions as a channel on Longreads.com, which launched in 2010 as a simple search engine that lets users find stories by topic and reading time/length (e.g., "15-30 minutes, 3,750-7,500 words"). The Virgin Atlantic backing not only clarifies Longreads' business model but signals that former McCann Erickson creative chief Joyce King Thomas, who joined Longreads last summer as director of brand partnerships, is helping Armstrong turn a minimalistic service, beloved by the literati, into a real business.
"We're trying to create a unique advertising model that serves both brands and the Longreads community," Ms. King told me. "The most interesting brands are keen to create community and offer up relevant content for their customers. Our partnership with Virgin Atlantic does both."
Chris Rossi, senior VP-North America for Virgin Atlantic, said in a statement, "We wanted to offer Virgin Atlantic passengers an easy way to enjoy some of the best travel literature and perhaps be inspired for new adventures." Virgin Atlantic has been rolling out in-flight Wi-Fi on its routes. But for those traveling without access to a web connection, Longreads encourages the use of apps, including Flipboard, Instapaper and Read It Later. Mr. Armstrong serves as an editorial adviser to Read It Later.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.