by Timothy Lee

Filed Under:
digital thinking, internet, magazines

the atlantic

Your Website Shouldn't Be Just An Electronic Version Of Your Print Publication

from the not-an-afterthought dept

We spend a lot of time here at Techdirt beating up on large media companies for their poor media strategies. For a long time, established media companies saw their websites as little more than an afterthought. Stuff tended to be developed for the print version first, and then got dumped to the website as an afterthought. This meant the content was often stale, and it certainly wasn't designed to engage the online conversation. Even worse, in many cases the content was hidden behind a paywall, further cutting it off from the online conversation. Recently, though, we've seen a few major media properties start to take the web seriously, not just as an adjunct to their print editions but as an important medium in its own right. I noted a few months ago that the New York Times seems to be taking the web seriously, and now the Times notes that the Atlantic has jumped on the bandwagon. (Full disclosure: A couple of the magazine's recent hires are friends of mine.) The Atlantic has done several smart things. First, they've dropped their paywall, not just for their new content but also for selected articles from 150 years of the print edition. Given that back issues were previously collecting dust on the shelves, that can only help drive traffic to the site. More importantly, they've recruited a stable of lively, high-profile bloggers who not only attract traffic to their own blogs, but by discussing content appearing elsewhere on the site, help to raise the profile of the site as a whole. They've also been proactive about experimenting with new technologies, including full-text RSS feeds and Flash-based video. The story indicates their traffic has quadrupled, and that's before their paywall goes down this week. The urgency of magazines' modernization projects is intensified by news that Wal-Mart is removing more than a thousand magazines from their store shelves, including major titles like the New Yorker, Forbes, Fortune, and BusinessWeek. Paper is a slow, expensive, and cumbersome way to transmit news, and as online news sources mature, more and more users will find they no longer have any use for dead tree publications. So making their websites successful is no longer optional for mainstream print publications: if they don't modernize quickly, they're going to quickly find themselves drowning in red ink very soon.

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  1. identicon
    Scogostology, 24 Jan 2008 @ 5:01am

    Your Website Shouldn't Be Just An Electronic Versi

    This is a non issue for online small marketers because internet marketing is virtually dead. Now they have to go offline to generate traffic online or they would be flushing away their advertising dollars

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Gunnar, 24 Jan 2008 @ 6:17am

    Newspapers aren't quite as free as the Atlantic. For instance, at our paper, our reporters aren't allowed to weigh in on the stories they've written because the higher ups are wary of any bias. Though I think reporters' comments via blog would be a great way to drive discussion, as they're the ones closest to the story, the bias worries are valid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    comboman, 24 Jan 2008 @ 6:58am


    Wal-Mart is removing more than a thousand magazines from their store shelves, including major titles like the New Yorker, Forbes, Fortune, and BusinessWeek.

    Wow, Mall-Wart has finally figured out that their trailer-trash customers don't read the New Yorker or BusinessWeek. They should also remove any classical and jazz music from their CD racks and replace it with Toby Keith.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Clair, 24 Jan 2008 @ 7:43am

    I agree. If you just offer the same thing in a different medium, the only advantage it has is the medium and you won't be able to maximize it. Interaction is not expected in print media but having everything online makes it easier for readers to submit emails on various topics, validate some opinions and stuff like that. Also, if they have footage of any sort, they could easily share that with readers/visitors of their site. I guess it's a matter of how they will adjust too the times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Matt Bennett, 24 Jan 2008 @ 7:47am

    Yeah, I agree with idea that Wal-mart dropping the New Yorker and what-not doesn't really have much to do with the popularity of those products, but the admittedly low-brow nature of their clientel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    John Vore, 24 Jan 2008 @ 9:46am

    Paper v. New Media

    A newspaper is read differently than on-line content, via scanning, zooming in and great time-lags (on Sundays)--in ways which I know aren't eye-tracked and monetized. A newspaper comes to a reader via distribution which usually never gives itself, or the reader, away. A printed news publication cannot be removed, or changed--when the winds, or political pressures make an opinion or information "undesirable." For all the eco-friendly talk about new media, for all the "do it 'cause it's new" talk from new media--nothing replaces a record which is unchangeable over time. And this comes from a veteran writer and publisher who believes in both print and new media. Which is to say, there is no need to "hype" the new into a stampede; there is room in our info-world for both. And there needs to be--although, without the current Administration, we might not have known how vulnerable the "new" is to political use and manipulation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    ehrichweiss, 24 Jan 2008 @ 9:51am


    Up until a couple months ago I worked with a newspaper that only wanted their online edition to mirror their print publication. Due to this, and the fact that we didn't have the rights to publish 1/3 of the articles on the web, we lost google pagerank as well as readers. To make things worse, the publisher then decided to add a "new and exciting" widget that was supposed to help deliver new content and readers to the site. What it brought was nothing because with no online readership there was no one to add events to the widget to create content to attract readers. I guess she thought *I* was going to do that. She was already in the downward spiral and just wasn't aware how badly the situation was despite my warnings. I simply quit working for them when I realized exactly how hopeless it would be to fight her ego/her limited understanding of the nature of the Web.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2008 @ 3:48pm


    I'd like to substitute "low-income" for "low-brow" in your above post. Just because you don't have very much money does not mean that your tastes need be limited to country music and tabloids. It makes sense, though, that lower-income individuals (who can't spend much outside of neccessities) would not be nearly as likely to buy publications like BusinessWeek as people with higher-paying jobs would.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Cixelsid, 24 Jan 2008 @ 4:14pm

    Put your heading here

    I seriously don't understand the need for print publications at all. If anything, your print publication should be a copy of your online service.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Hopeless Charm, 24 Jan 2008 @ 10:12pm

    Washington Post Online

    Washington Post online has become very comprehensive and comment friendly too. I, myself, haven't even picked up a newspaper in years, though I still utilize print magazines since much of their content hasn't yet gone 100% online and it's easier to carry a magazine or two around than a wireless notebook, though the Mac Air is breaking that reason down a bit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    stephen, 25 Jan 2008 @ 7:00am


    I hope the Atlantic sets up a better way to search the site. Right now, you can do just a standard boolean search, but for a magazine with 150 years of contents, that's not nearly good enough. I want to search by year, for instance, or be able to look for just book reviews.

    As for Wal-Mart, it would be interesting to do an anthropological study of America using just the "artifacts" and "relics" one can buy at Wal-Mart.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Lisa Creech Bledsoe, 25 Jan 2008 @ 9:15am

    paper love, washington post online

    I still love paper magazines, maybe for the same reason I love paperback books -- they're just easy to take anywhere and leave everywhere. I don't always want to carry around my computer, but a book or magazine tucks nicely into a bag or pocket. But the only time I ever see a newspaper is in a fast food joint, where they sometimes float around on tables. I love the way the Washington Post is using social media -- when I go to their site I have so many options from video to blogs to interactive widgets from which to draw information. I would love to begin to shift more in that direction myself (there's a fair tech curve).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Celes, 25 Jan 2008 @ 11:54am

    Re: Put your heading here

    Hey, I work in a hotel, and you'd never believe the fuss people make when USA Today delivers newspapers late. These guests also have access to computers 24 hours, so maybe there is something to this whole paper thing.

    But a publication that is both in print AND online (the online version should definitely include some features unavailable in print, by the way) should do quite well. I don't think it's just about completely getting rid of paper OR about offering as much as you can online, but about finding a way to be a viable and innovative source of information across different media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    super mario, 27 Feb 2009 @ 4:58pm


    very nice work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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