The Future of Blog Networks
David Carr, writing in the New York Times, spots more evidence that physical magazines are going through a bad patch and are eager to get online. The problem they have is drafting in the expertise and adapting current staff to new realities.
“On Tuesday, Time Inc. announced that it was putting 18 of its 50 magazines in the United States up for sale. Given the somewhat marginal publications involved — niche magazines like Popular Science, Yachting, Transworld Skateboarding — it is not as if the company is burning heirloom furniture to stay warm.”
Another interesting point is that mass market magazines are the ones mostly in trouble. Upmarket titles have it much easier :
“Time Inc.â€™s scale makes it vulnerable because the masses can access commoditized information for free while magazines that are more targeted at affluent readers, like CondÃ© Nast magazines, are less troubled.”
But it’s not going to be a problem-free transition for even the biggest mainstream stars :
“In a phone interview, she [Ann S. Moore, the chief executive of Time Inc.] was wildly enthusiastic about the companyâ€™s growing digital prospects, but did not minimize the size of the task ahead.”
So we see two converging trends here. Print publications rushing for the perceived lower-cost shelter of an online presence, and online blog networks and others scaling up already Web-based products to stay competitive with the incoming competition.
Who will win this Goliath and David contest? Actually, I’ve never thought of this as a head to head, which presupposes some kind of limitation and a fight for space and readers. Both are almost unlimited online.
If we run out of western middle-class readers, just look at India, where a vast, educated and English-speaking middle class is growing at an enormous rate. They look to the West for their ideas, styles and consumption expectations, all within the purview of traditional magazine content. A typical printco would find it hard going to establish an operation in India. Online magazines are already world publications accessible anywhere. This is one of the many factors driving publishers to the Web.
The convergence is so complementary that mergers and especially acquisitions are inevitable, almost all of it financed from the print market. The task of the blog networks is to make themselves attractive to the incomers, both in terms of innovation, quality, brand, and existing readership. If the printcos have the money and the publishing skills, they are looking for sure-footed online operators who can meet them halfway on their own strengths and burnish their publishing portfolios.
Jeff Jarvis gets it in one: “Magazines could have had a unique benefit in the internet if they had thought of themselves not as slick paper but instead of networks of interest and information. … Sadly, not many in the business view it this way. Theyâ€™re still thinking content and control. Theyâ€™re still thinking centralized. Break out and think distributed and think community and new things become possible.”
Beneath that heady cattle market of big combines and smaller but sizzling internet fry, there will be a secondary layer of mid-sized businesses, acting more like print publications than blogs, for which we use the catch-all title of Web Network Magazines.
This is the area where most blog networks should be positioning themselves. It will be lucrative in itself, but will also catch some of the stardust falling from the conglomerates above. And who knows whose eyeballs may be watching.