by Timothy Lee
Thu, Jan 24th 2008 4:46am
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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