Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Magazines On The Oblivion Express And It's All Your Fault

The Web Will Be The Savior of Us All. Maybe.

There's an interesting analysis on the Editorialiste blog on some of the many ills afflicting the moribund magazine business.
Included is this reality check, that ad dollars were already running flat before the economy cratered. The recession merely kicked more sand in the faces of the 97-pound weaklings cowering in the publishers' suites.
So, does that mean magazines should beat a hasty retreat to the Internet and save a few trees? Not so fast. As Editorialiste notes, magazines need to first clean up the mess they've made online, having been guilty of creating sites that have "poor usability and poor brand representation that served only as subscription centers, rather than as logical extensions of the brand with original content."
That's why I wouldn't sound the death knell for the printed version just yet, nor would Editorialiste.
The best magazines are all about the sizzle as well as the steak. The design, and the graphics are indelibly intertwined with the copy. You could, in theory, producing a compelling online version, complete with interactive doo-dads like podcasts, slide shows, polls and the like.
However, I'm skeptical as to how many people are truly making use of the bells and whistles, at least right now. And by betting so much on the online product, or even making a magazine digital-only, is still a dangerous bet for most titles.
Most people don't have the patience or inclination to read more than 500 or so words at a time on the web. So, long-form pieces either wind up with low readership or they're not commissioned.
That diminishes the overall product. That gives people less of a reason to use the Web site. All of a sudden, that push to get advertisers to pay more for digital and replace their print spend goes out the window.
So, the question remains: can publishers countenance having the print and digital versions peacefully co-exist. More are answering no -- as circulation and ad dollars bleed out -- and are taking their titles online exclusively, but all indications are that's not always the right answer

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