Friday, June 26, 2009

The Future of Online Publishing

Media today are panicky about the future of publishing. The old model seems broken, and no one (except maybe Steve Ballmer - see previous post) knows what the new model will be.

In his column on Masthead Online, editor Marco Ursi mused the other day that if publishers expect to charge consumers to read their content online, "it better be a hell of a lot better than what they can get for free on The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Slate, Salon, Pitchfork, Politico, Gawker, TMZ, SB Nation, The Sartorialist, Epicurious, YouTube, etc. It should also probably be better than every print magazine still being sold on newsstands, and more interesting and entertaining than Mad Men, Radiohead, Malcolm Gladwell and World of Warcraft."

He was just trying to start a discussion on the future of media content. So I took the bait and submitted the following comment:

You get it, Marco. Magazines know how to engage readers in their own ink-and-paper paradigm, but their potency fades fast when up against the million free midway rides on the Web.

In many ways, however, all websites are just digital magazines. They use diverse combinations of information, entertainment, design and practical utility to aggregate audiences with common interests. I believe there is no reason why magazine brands can't make money on the Net – but first they must make peace with the technology.

They have to abandon the single canvas of the printed page, and learn to exploit the diverse applications of the Internet to do what they have always done – inform, amuse and serve their audiences.

(Part of this is recognizing what magazines do best. Flipping through a magazine is the ultimate killer app – the ability to browse at will, work backwards through the book, and discover surprises on every page adds up to a huge competitive advantage over other media.)

But we also have to respect the power and potential of the Web. We need to use our creativity to find new ways to tell stories, whether it’s through text, illustration, sound, video, interactive applications or user participation.

Right now, most magazine websites seem mainly to pour plain text into preset templates. And then publishers complain they can't get people to spend time on their sites.

Magazine editors and publishers must open their minds and wallets and offer online users what they want. (They're called users, not readers, for a reason.) If we continue to give them repurposed text, they will continue to shun magazine sites in favour of other sources of information and entertainment that “get it.”


Allen said...

I appreciate the labour you have put in developing this blog. Nice and informative.

J. B. Loewen said...

National Post is smart dropping Monday's print edition. Soon it will be only be the weekend edition that will be lucrative to print.
You are right that it is users not readers and that competition is from gaming or other online activities.
The newspapers have the brand and the columnists. National Post is doing all the right things with base newspaper but then blogs with reader comments for edgier content.
Personally, I like to read or podcast debate, not just right or left wing views. The Post does that the best in Canada.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you are familiar with Narrative Magazine (, one of my favorite new media organizations and a successful one at that. They are a nonprofit whose mission is to bring great literature to the world, free - and they publish tons of great new voices in the process.