Posted on | December 2, 2010 | 1 Comment
Salon.com is the latest online magazine to gasp for air like handcuffed Jack in one of the last scenes of “Titanic.” It’s a fine publication that’s been bleeding red for years, and The Wall Street Journal reports today that it’s looking for some oxygen or Rose with a hacksaw. Whatever. It’s the latest in a line:
- The online Daily Beast merged with Newsweek earlier this year.
- Slate got in bed with the Washington Post years ago.
There’s some creative, excellent content in these publications. Why can’t they make a living online?
I think part of the reason is that big ideas are best presented in print. Big ideas take lots of words, graphics, presentation. Sometimes they take hundreds of pages.
This long Sunday New York Times piece about online shopping is multilayered. It’s easier to digest in the print edition than it is paging through several Web pages crammed and cluttered with flashing ads and distracting navigation modules. It had a huge impact too: Within three days, Google changed its search algorithm based on the implications in the story.Â
The writing problem
So, yes, that story was online but it started (was conceived) with an eye for print… three pages worth.
For the online magazines, you may be able to hire able, experienced writers to create content and stories, but they write for print, not for the digital medium. Their stuff is eye-smartingly long for the medium.
Why? They came of age when they turned reportage and research into words and then handed those off to people who knew how to present them to an audience. Today, you have to do it all yourself and the presentation is homogenized by HTML style sheets. Read 2,000 words online from someone who hasn’t read Jakob Nielsen and, well, you won’t get that far, frankly.
- The Web is a place to find information and answers–quickly
- Video’s for amusement and how-to, and viewer interest tends to drop off bracingly after 60 seconds
- Podcasting is an excellent medium for ideas (see iTunes lectures, think-tank podcasts etc.) but it’s a medium not easily accessible for most potential users.
Then and now
Huge kudos to these publications for carving out the path they did. Fifty years ago, they would have been born as fantastically clever magazines or newsweeklies targeting interesting niches. In modern times, they tried to drive ideas and interesting presentations of those ideas in the online context because “print was dead.”
But it’s just not the medium for that. Even some of these pioneers acknowledge that indirectly: Politico, for example, generates a “large chunk” of its revenue from its companion newspaper, The Journal story reports.