I thought it was some kind of late summer April Fool’s joke — MySpace is looking into starting a print magazine. That’s right, a PRINT magazine. Other commentators have already made the obligatory comparisons to bubble era magazines from Yahoo, Ebay, and infamously from Pets.com, and they’ve observed how increasingly Old Media MySpace’s strategy seems to be (see John Smith, with a very funny mock magazine cover, John Paczkowski, and the always enjoyably incisiveness of Mike at Techdirt) .
What pains me about such “strategy decay” (as Umair would put it) is that it doesn’t have to be this way. All MySpace needs to do is look at the central driver of its own success — letting users create their own spaces. So having a bunch of editors create a one-size-fits-all printed “space” is running full tilt in the opposite direction.
Instead, why not create a publishing tool that lets MySpace users convert their pages and their friends’ pages into a print publication? The tool could generate PDF files that users could print out on their own — OR, MySpace could pursue some actual innovation, in the area of cheap, print-on-demand technology, which might allow groups of friends to create magazines that MySpace would print and mail to them — instead of that one-size-fits all magazine that nobody will want because its so diametrically opposed to what MySpace is all about.
Assuming that MySpace can enable the publication of magazines that users actually want to read (because they created them), what about the business model? Well, MySpace could charge users to print their custom magazines, but I’m not sure if being a printing press is such a great business (unless MySpace really innovates on the print-on-demand front). MySpace could certainly sell ad space that is automatically inserted into each custom publication — which rationalizes how the users are able to get them for free — same deal as all other free Web 2.0 services. OR — MySpace could sell advertisers into an ad page pool and then let the USERS choose which ads to put in their publications. Such user placement would be a great implied endorsement to friends who read each other’s custom publications. Even better, give users tools to create their own ads for brands they use.
Of course, there’s the problem of MySpace having no control over the content that their advertisers appear next to, which might put the same cramp in their print ad sales as it has in their web ad sales. Then there’s the question of why bother with print at all when digital media is so much more of an efficient, flexible and networked form of custom publishing.