I don’t mean to be too much of an old-media-reactionary running dog. And some of the things he says make immediate sense. In fact, I asked all my writers and editors to start blogging a few months ago. (See the sidebar of B2 bloggers on the right, or go here.) But Wired’s radical transparency would help meâ€”radicallyâ€”when I make strategic decisions about how to put my magazine together. That’s because one of the most powerful attributes of my mediumâ€”the monthly magazineâ€”is the element of surprise. What Chris is describing might indeed be wonderful online media, and yes, surprising to watch as it’s being created. But I bet the PAPER product that rolls off the printing press months later would have a much smaller audience than it does nowâ€”and would be creamed by the competition.
Editors like Chris and Josh are facing a moment of reckoning — they need to decide whether they are principally magazine publishers or online publishers. Given the “radically” divergent imperatives of online publishing, it will be difficult if not impossible to serve both equally well — one will ultimately have to be the primary medium.
Magazines face the same terrible quandary as newspapers — online audiences and revenues are where the growth are, but that growth is nowhere near sufficient, at least from a revenue perspective, to reverse the polarity from print to online.
The first step towards what promises in many cases to be a fraught transition may be to formalize the commitment to online publishing as a principal endeavor, knowing that will force decisions that ill serve the needs of the print publication.
At the end of the day, the focus needs to be the reader — are you going to serve best your online only readers, your online and print readers, or your print only readers? In print, readers can only be readers — and for many people, that’s still all they want to do. But online, readers can be participants and value creators — the community is interconnected, interactive, engaged.
In life, you can’t have everything. Brands that publish both in print and online face some tough choices indeed.