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.