Out of Time

David Carr imagines Time Warner without Time Inc. The old magazines are a drag on corporate performance. They have not managed to start new successes. They’ve started selling off their lesser titles. Can a sale of the publishing division be next? Sure, it can. Did it need to be this way? No, it didn’t. But Time Inc., like other magazine companies, never managed to figure out the internet. Oh, they tried. Who can forget — try as they might —

Magazines could have had a unique benefit in the internet if they had thought of themselves not as slick paper but instead of networks of interest and information. The New Yorker is a good illustration: David Remnick et al pick good shit. People like the shit they pick. So they gather around and subscribe. That was as far as the relationship could go in years past. But The New Yorker is more than its content. It is truly a community of smart people, a wise and select crowd, who all like the same shit. And all those people could join in and contribute to the community. Wouldn’t you like to know the books that New Yorker readers are reading? Wouldn’t you be eager to have them recommend articles they’ve read elsewhere? Wouldn’t you enjoy contributing yourself to that exchange? I would. And would this make my relationship with the magazine, its brand, its value, and its community stronger? Yes, it would.

I ran into a few smart magazine executives I respect last week and they are frustrated that magazine brands don’t have greater presences online because they want to build stronger relationships, which will yield better business. Sadly, not many in the business view it this way. They’re still thinking content and control. They’re still thinking centralized. Break out and think distributed and think community and new things become possible.

Newsmagazines are particularly screwed in a world of commodity news (who needs one-size-fits-all Time to give you the news — late — when you have friends to point you to what you really care about?). But even they could have become more than just repositories of content their own staffs created but instead gateways to what larger worlds know.

The strength of these brands is that they had — note the tense — a headstart. They could have used their promotional clout and reputations to enable these communities to form around them. But they didn’t. Too late? Maybe.

  • Web9.0

    Why is it that those who tout the web2.0 mantra of edge content moderate their blogs and censor any contra-comment?

    Umair Haque: “Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author.”

    Stowe Boyd: “Comment moderation is on”

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  • Part of the new dynamic on the Web is that ‘promotional clout’ alone does not go very far. Many of the newer, smaller community sites were started in response to a direct need. Oftentimes the larger companies set their online strategy based on revenue projections, not actually solving a problem for someone or enhancing their readers lives.
    Dan Blank

  • Working in the ad biz in Chicago, most of the agencies I’ve worked for have, at one time or another, worked for or wanted to work for Sears. To which I always asked– why? I understood what Sears was in the era of mail order, and in the era of Main Street shopping. But when there’s a mall, what is Sears? A single store trying to be everything a mall is, but not being able to pull it off because it’s only one store.

    Same for Time or Newsweek. Maybe there’s a business in being a weekly summarizer, but it seems doubtful to me.

  • Stu

    I like the point you make about viewing your audience with the networks of interest and information lens.

    We have moved past the times, where creating a web presence, simply serves as another distribution channel for your brand. Oprah and ESPN, won that game, as the Kings and Queens of All Media (Sorry Howard). They “got it” better, than the pack.

    It will be great to see if the magazines, can figure how to adopt to the networked world, where distribution is infinite and connections are key…and video too.

  • adslfan

    use your millions and buy all the time magazines. then you can put yourself
    on the cover of time .

  • Carson Bennett

    At a meeting about six months ago in Washington, the editor of one well known political journal and the assoc. editor of another well known political journal on the other side both commented, in answer to a question about blogs and newspapers in their own work, that in addition to blogs they found they still read newspapers but that, amazingly, in the past year they found themselves writing — and finishing — pieces without consulting the news magazines to be sure they hadn’t missed something. That would have been unheard of ten years ago — even five. It says a lot about their relevance in today’s portfolio of media.

  • These are different times. It isn’t only the established magazine publishers who are feeling the parched air of death sucking out their last breaths of oxygen. Companies that were once considered as solid as the US government are being put on life support, companies like General Motors and Ford. Of course, the US government isn’t exactly what it was only a few short years ago.

    Assimilated Press
    Read Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Resigns In Disgrace

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  • Lark Williams

    Folio, the magazine publishing trade book, published an article on this subject. I think it is worth a read


  • For Brands to prosper in a world of search, aggregation and social networking they need to focus on the engagement of their communites. In the end the Brands are the voice of the special interest communities. Brands can play a huge role in helping surface and showcase quality content but only if they realize that great content, while coming from professional journalist also comes from their communities. Colin Crawford, SVP Online IDG Communications