Tina Brown is a legend, and we’re excited for her, and the future of Newsweek. But if she does make the decision to fold Newsweek.com, here’s what we hope everyone remembers. In the face of indifference, condescension and even outright hostility from its print counterpart; with little to no resources; with more high-level hires and fires over the past couple of years than anybody could possibly countand a revolving door of editorsthe small but tireless staff at Newsweek.com consistently created editorial work that made waves: via a Website, on video platforms, through multimedia, photo and social media. Whatever happens to Newsweek, we are all proud to have played a part in that.
Felix Salmon is also befuddled:
On a budgetary level Newsweek.com is the cheapest and most efficient part of the entire organization, losing less money and providing much more bang per buck than either TheDailyBeast.com or the print edition of Newsweek. It also has more readers than both of them put together.
My guess is that if the Daily Beast even gets 10% of Newsweek.com’s monthly uniques to come over to their place, they’ll be fortunate.
We'll see. I can see why abolishing Newsweek.com in a swift move makes editorial sense - how do you somehow editorially integrate two utterly different sites? But I share the skepticism that a simple redirect is not the same thing as fusion of two different audiences. In this case, 1 + 2 may just = 1.2 in the medium term. But who knows how many Newsweek.com readers will actually love the Beast when they get to know it and stick around? Madrigal gives the concept more props:
Take a website (The Beast) with a ton of editorial energy and marry it to a shaky, but salvageable print brand and maybe you're on to something.
But he is right to worry, I suspect, about the general trends of existing magazine brands online:
I've started to wonder whether one can really build a new destination publication -- one that people bookmark and return to, or type into a browser bar -- that can reach millions. I know there are counterexamples -- HuffPo, Gawker, GigaOm, TechCrunch -- but not many. It's worth noting that these successful standalone online publications all launched in 2006 or before. That is to say, they got in before the social media tidal wave hit the beaches. Even The Awl, which is a singular media property if ever there was one, has taken years to get to half a million unique visitors a month. And who knows how many of those people go in the front door thinking, "I wonder what's on TheAwl.com?"
This is largely intuition here, but people just don't seem to use the Internet that way anymore. If they are the type of person who goes to a predetermined set of sites, they already have their list. And if they do frequent new sites and publications, they get there through social media. Relative to even a few years ago, it seems harder to capture dedicated readers beyond very small niches. Obviously, this has major implications for my own career trajectory, and those of all writers.
My view is that, from the beginning, the web has always favored individuals over institutions. That has only intensified with the impact of social media. There's something about logging on to a computer alone to read, the intimacy of the one-on-one writer-reader relationship online, and the sheer millions of choices you have in what to consume that tends to favor trusting individuals, rather than older, institutional brands.
As Alexis notes, the few truly successful brands have had a head-start: for all the low barriers to entry online, being first has mattered a lot (perhaps because of the bewildering and always accelerating number of new choices out there). But he doesn't note that most of the non-niche brands tend to be personal as well: Drudge, HuffPo and Gawker are somehow inseparable from, er, Drudge, Huffington and Denton. The Beast might have done better if it had been called Tina.com. Individual writers who flourish at these places - think Pareene at Gawker - can take their brand elsewhere if necessary, and are often encouraged to do so before their personal brand threatens to rival the institutional one.
I wonder - more radically - if a "magazine" can really exist online at all. What is a magazine after all? They didn't exist until widely available paper and printing presses (the first ones emerged in the eighteenth century). They were ways in which a group of people became a collective by connecting themselves to a physical object - a bunch of pages bound by a stapler - and selling that physical product. Take away the physical product and what do you have left? A reader can simply choose which of the writers he or she wants to read online and ignore the rest. Or a reader can simply read whatever her friends point out to her on Facebook or by emails or social media more generally. The stickiness of one writer to another becomes much less sticky. And the data that reveals just how many readers an individual writer attracts tears one more veil of mystery from the aura of a "magazine."
Yes, you can pool on one page as many connective writers as you can. Every day at the Dish, you get reminded of the other writers at the Atlantic and can read them - and are far more likely to read them than if they were scattered around the web. But that is nowhere near as tight a bundle as a physical stapler around paper pages; a click is still just a click and every page on the web is as valid as any other page; over time, if you really like, say, TNC's blog, you may be more likely to bookmark it individually rather than the Atlantic.com as a whole. And so on ...
What a magazine really becomes online - its business logic overwhelming its editorial logic - is an advertizing network in which various writers and platforms and channels are pooled to create an entity that can appeal to advertizers as a brand. But then, one wonders, what happens when ad networks emerge that simply try to congregate many smaller niche blogs under some kind of conceptual/intellectual branding? Take the brand new ad network, Ideas People Network, just launched by the Economist group:
The Economist has an audience of global elites that advertisers salivate over, but its print and online reach fall short of making it a mass-reach media vehicle. Today, the British-based newsweekly is trying to remedy that, with the launch of an online network composed of sites that reach Economist-like readers, but on a bigger scale.
The Ideas People Channel is the umbrella name for the network, which comprises Economist.com plus about 30 niche sites like those of Christian Science Monitor and The Nation whose content spans politics, culture and ideas. Executives said the channel would launch with 11 million monthly unique visitors in the U.S., with a goal of reaching 21 million globally...
The Economist’s Paul Rossi, managing director, evp, Americas, said the Ideas People Channel's ... audience is defined not by demographic traits like age, income or education but by their mindset. “Ideas” people are intellectually curious, opinionated and influential, he contends. “It builds around the Economist audience,” he said. “We call it the Ideas People, because when you put a group of Economist readers in a room, there’s very little that ties them together.”
What is the difference between that and an online magazine? I guess at some point in the near future, we will find out. The Dish wishes both the Beast and new ad networks the very best. The truth is: we don't know yet what works; and both these entities are trying to figure it out. More power to them.
(Photos: Neilson Barnard and Joe Corrigan/Getty Images).