When to post print content online

March 12, 2009

A constant question for magazine websites – especially as most of us have small budgets for online-exclusive content – is when (and even if) to post print content on the website. At one extreme, Tina Brown of the Daily Beast recently said at an event that you shouldn’t put any content online (thanks to Lisa Murphy for the link):

“Now, of course, [Magazines] just simply post it right up online, which to be honest is insane. I don’t think monthlies should post their stuff online. I really don’t… It’s nuts! Why would you do that?”

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Wired, which many of us would agree is doing quite well online, and puts every little bit of the magazine on its website (although admittedly the print content is only a fraction of everything on their site).

So should you put your print content online? Well, why wouldn’t you? For one thing, I’ll guarantee that every issue, you’ll have people looking to link to or share your content, and having it online is the only reasonable way for that to happen. The sad thing is, you won’t always know if a reader came online to send an article to a friend and couldn’t do it – meaning you missed out on a site visitor and potential reader. By putting content online, you’re giving it the chance to build an audience for you. Second, the more (well-repurposed) content you have on the site, the more there is for people to link to and Google to point people to. Simply put, all else being equal, more content equals more traffic. Third, you’ll be building an archive that you and your readers are guaranteed to find useful later on.

As for when to put things online, Phillip Smith recently blogged on this topic quite thoroughly, after surveying many of us in the industry, and came up with a good series of conclusions, which I suggest you read in full over there. But the final word from almost everyone, for a number of reasons, was to stagger the dates that articles go live.

What does your publication do, and do you think it’s the best solution?


3 Responses to “When to post print content online”

  1. I couldn’t agree more that putting your print content online opens you up to a whole new potential audience, up’s your Google-friendliness, and gives you an opportunity to convert your online readers to print subscribers. Our philosophy at Cottage Life is to take our relevant, evergreen content (recipes, maintenance, opening-up/closing checklists, etc.) and keep putting it out there for the people that may never look at the mag, or for those subscribers who know they can find that list of pantry staples a lot easier by coming to the web than by looking up their back issue. Today’s Parent also does a good job of this.

    As a small(ish) publication with a limited budget, we just don’t have the resources to churn out web-exclusive content on a regular basis.

    Also, as a regional magazine, there are plenty of cottagers/cabin-owners across North America that may never see our print version, but find value in our information regardless of where their cottage is located.

  2. Melanie Says:

    These are great points and especially reflective of the changes that web publishing paradigms have well established – namely, the transition from “read-only” culture to “read-write” culture. I respect that people in your industry may think these are tough choices, I also think there are plentiful examples of magazines that get it right. To me, it seems the larger challenge is for publications who are either disconnected or overwhelmed by both the philosophies of the web2.0 as well as the abundance of tools and choices. They may also be ripe for options that speak more to nostalgia than current user needs. For example, the literal representation of the pages on a website – without the ability to bookmark or interact. As I see it, the most significant change that the web2.0 paradigms have brought about is a realisation of the reader as a user – rather than a passive receptor. This realisation – of the real (as opposed to imaginary, idealised) user needs is at the heart of all those publications and businesses that truly harness the power of the web. And I think it is worthwhile for print magazines to consider how these kinds of web readers may also wish for a transformation of print. I see nothing but opportunities for those publications driven by a real interest in the need of their communities.

  3. Hey there Kat,

    Great post and many thanks for the link.

    Even more thanks is due for your input on the survey. Your ideas came through as clear and experienced, and are referenced throughout the post.


    Interestingly, for smaller publications, the challenge to getting content online seemed to be people resources vs. the commitment to doing so.


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