When will they ever learn?

John Koblin writes a v good piece in this week’s Observer on the state of magazines online post-crash and it’s a mixed totebag with some magazines – The New Yorker seems to be the poster child – getting it at last but its parent company not getting it – indeed throwing ‘it’ on the ground and stomping on it:

“We work in the high-end market,” said our Condé Nast source. “We’re going to stick to it and we might be the last one standing, but that’s our philosophy. The Web isn’t really a priority.”

Ouch. My emphasis. Having worked on their online sites in the earliest days – and then suffering through no shortage of the infamous Conde Nast politics, taking my share of spike heels in soft tissue – I think this is a pity.

I’ve long believed that magazines should have great potential online because they already have communities of shared interest. And though magazines still – today – have franchises and value in print, it would be foolish, even suicidal to ignore other media already overtaken by the internet tidal wave. Music drowned. TV learned from that and started streaming online. Newspapers are going down for the third and last time. Magazines haven’t learned from that. The glossy monthlies may think they’re safe because they’re glossy but Time Magazine used to be huge and now it’s so thin I could use it to cut cheese. The weeklies, with their high costs and general interests, are dying just behind newspapers. Will the monthlies be next? I wouldn’t gamble against it, as some magazine publishers are doing.

  • “… and we might be the last one standing.”

    conde nast might read up on nye lubricants @ the link above.

  • big blogs have effectively replaced magazines: the best example of this is Engadget for tech news and hardware. Blogs are versatile, timely, and efficient. They foster a direct engagement with their audience. Magazines are only surviving because of a legacy audience.

  • Anyone who utters this sentence:

    “The Web isn’t really a priority.”

    …deserves exactly what they get.

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  • Honeybunny

    …i hope that your predictiond do not come true, i dont need no stinking communities, i need my weekly magazine, damgum… and the horrible idea of reading new yorker every week from laptop sucks… call me old fashioned legacy loser but i read my magazines the usual way… 4ever…

  • Honeybunny: The question I suppose is how much of a premium will Luddites (like you good self) pay to have an out of date, dead-tree version of some content?

    If the economics of scale are removed from the printing process, the cost will stop being a mass-produced mass-distributed item into basically a specialist printout sent via regular mail channels (if there are any left!)

  • I have to say I believe that grubby old trade mags are stealing a march here. Many of us are combining offerings – strong magazines, flourishing websites, popular blogs and expanding rich media. We know our audiences (name, job title, employer, spending responsibilities) and can segment content to give them exactly what they want and need in the format in which they choose. Of course, not everything is perfect and we’re not always as sharp as we should be. But in general this is an area where I believe B2B mags can teach consumer titles a thing or two.
    Damian Wild, Editor in Chief, Accountancy Age (and of http://www.accountancyage.com and of the blog http://accountancymatters.accountancyage.com/ etc – you take my point)

  • Arno

    Dear Jeff,

    Let me aks you this: if you were an exec at a magazine company which makes 90% of its money (and I mean top- and bottom-line) from its print products and a recession is coming and you have to cut costs, would you have the guts to cut costs in the 90% income business or in the 10% income business (which is more a profit center still rather than a moneymaking machine). Of course it is short-sighted to stop development in online since that is where the money is flowing to. But not all and not today otherwise the 90%/10% division would not be there.

    And about glossies: I truly believe that print will be around for quite some years and especially the special interest, shiny monthlies which are there to showcase (on your coffeetable for instance) and to flip through again and again.

    Last but not least: if you read John Koblin’s piece well, you see that he mentions that there are magazine companies out there trying and trying hard. So it is unfair to take one quote from an anonymous source at Condé Nast and make it into “When will THEY learn” referring to the whole magazine industry.

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  • Honeybunny

    to brianist–> i already pay very much, new yorker might be cheap mag in states, 3 dollars or something, i pay something like 6 euros every week for it, if i can find one here in finland because it is one erratic system that sends those maghs here… my limit might be 10 euros…

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  • Keith

    This post makes me wonder about all media. Are movies and TV shows next? Is Hollywood finished?

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  • jackparsons

    This is hilarious. Is this where the “community” is? Because I see a few comments (and one wonderfully condescending one — great work, “brianist!”) and several bits of linkspam. Gosh, I feel so connected with y’all through our obviously fake names and trite lil observations!

    When I read something, I’m reading it alone. Many blogs and other WebTwoPointOh-y media give me the creepy feeling of reading a newspaper on a train with a guy peering over my shoulder. And carrying on a running commentary under his breath. With all due respect, I don’t know any of you fellow commentards and I don’t think I want to know your picks for the Oscars this year. I couldn’t care less about feeling all communityist with y’all than if you can hold my attention for five minutes of my time. I’m going to guess that once you scrub away concepts like “sharing” and “dialogue”, most people on the web feel exactly the same.

    None of the neat WebTwoPointOh-y things that make us all members of one big community have made a dime for anyone but the geniuses who created them and sold out to the greater fool at just right moment. YouTube has more market share in online video than all of its competitors combined — and the smartest kids in tech still can’t figure out how to make money from what’s largely pirated content.

    Old Media people may appear to be dinosaurs, but they at least have a track record of making millions, sometimes billions of dollars in their industry. That may be the economic equivalent of fighting the new war with the old war’s weapons, but a solid track record in a suffering industry beats the living bejeezus out of a string of unrelenting failures in an industry that is not only suffering but has so little to show for it after two busts in less than ten years that it’s difficult to consider it a serious industry at all.

    As far as Conde Nast in particular goes, Portfolio.com is still a good read. Their recent article by Michael Lewis revisiting the world of Liar’s Poker in the aftermath of the meltdown was an example of fantastic writing, print or net (and for the record, I read it online). Wired is a little flighty but it always has been. I do notice they killed WebMonkey (which they brought back from the dead earlier this year), but honestly, I found that property so mis-managed as an end user that I deleted it from my bookmarks a long time ago. There’s really no reason that the link to the top article on the front page should 404… but when it’s on a site that’s about web development, that’s just comedy.