Do magazines “get” the web?

November 14, 2008

There’s a good article over at The Big Money (from Slate) that asks the question, why can’t magazines get the web? It’s primarily in response to recent decisions at Condé Nast to lay off a sizable chunk of online staff, and what that means for the future of its web properties. Some key points:

On making money online:

Many magazine editors seem to believe that digital is the future but are grappling with how to make it viable in the present. The burning question: How can crown-jewel publications like Vogue and Vanity Fair be made as profitable online as they were as peak-performing print publications?

The predominant—and unhappy—answer is that it’s probably not possible, at least not right away. While advertisers are increasingly interested in online platforms, an Internet-ad dollar is still not the same as a print-ad dollar.

On web content:

“You live and die by the quality of the content you create,” says Jellinek. “If you’re just a magazine clone, you’re never going to attract an audience. The failure of [Condé Nast’s] Web sites is a failure of vision and ability to translate the DNA of their titles into an online environment.”

The conclusion? Magazine websites have great potential, but they have to have their own goals – separate from the print product, and certainly not only pushing print subscriptions – and they have to get creative and move beyond display advertising if they want to truly profitable.

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