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Magazines And Web Strategy, Or The Lack Thereof

Posted by: Jon Fine on October 23, 2008

My pal and former boss, Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom, came back from this month’s American Magazine Conference with some tart thoughts regarding the gap between what magazine publishers have said about their businesses and reality:

Major magazines’ corollary websites still account for only a tiny percentage of all web activity.
Very few magazines — the exceptions being ESPN, National Geographic, Real Simple and The Economist — can be considered brands that have established much meaning beyond their printed forms. Many think they have. Major publishers have repeatedly told me that their titles are also powerful brands …

But magazines are not marketed like brands. They spend little advertising themselves to either consumers or the [advertisers] that support them, and when they do, their messages tend to be focused on the content of the publication . . .

Few have committed to the web, despite protestations to the contrary. There are still top-50 magazines whose landing pages are essentially ads for their print versions.

Broadly: He’s right. You can quibble around the edges, as I am about to, to note that much of what he says applies to the monthly magazines of the world. Say what you will about weekly newsmagazines, but Time and Newsweek—and, for that matter, BusinessWeek—have been forced to reckon with the Web, since they live and die with news cycles.

This isn't the case for monthlies, and the way in which the Web was ignore-able for them has come around: now the Web's all but ignoring them. The traffic of Web sites of top-tier titles like Hearst’s Cosmopolitan do not rank with that of many Web-only competitors. One of the more damning things I heard at last week’s Association of National Advertisers, a Web site run by one American teen—Ashley Qualls—routinely garnered more traffic than those of teen mags Teen Vogue and the (recently shuttered) CosmoGirl—combined.

It didn’t have to be this way. But it is.

Anyway, read the rest of Bloom’s column for more on where magazines have missed out.

Reader Comments


October 25, 2008 5:22 PM

Personally I have noticed low quality content (writing), lack of original content, a discrepancy between the amount of ads versus the amount of content. This really turns me off from both paper magazines and their online embodiments.


October 26, 2008 9:29 PM

Bloom's article is bizarre, only a student who slept through Civics would think that Pelosi and congress are responsible for regulating the banks- an executive branch responsibility, so it's worth disregarding due to such errors. Magazines once WERE marketed exactly like brands- Playboy being the most obvious example in the 20th century. And many journalists cling to a separation between editorial and advertising that doesn't really exist in real life.

All one really has to ask is what major magazine offers something that:
1. Is superior to something available in the magazine.
2. Is superior than related offerings from non-magazine websites
3. Creates a brand image that is somehow "cooler" than the brand image of the magazine itself...

I can easily look at businessweek. I read the B-School forum a lot this summer and found the interface and experience inferior to even the freeware PHP forums. I found the inability to filter b-school attributes in any kind of searching unacceptable and merely extracted businessweek data I could mine off the site into my own database I could create filtered reports with on my laptop. If anyone at the magazine had actually tried to apply to second tier schools and all the hassle that comes with determining which imperfect, non-Ivy League school was the most appropriate, they'd build the same database I did- only they'd have the power to plop said database and interface up on the website and let others use it. Y'all tell me how those opportunities to beat US News at school analysis got ignored.


October 27, 2008 3:11 PM

Ana Marie Cox is looking for election travel funding:

Ari Paparo

October 29, 2008 11:09 AM

The real problem is that magazine brands have little to zero draw for web traffic. Unlike newspapers, who have an attraction for local news or unique content, magazine titles offer nothing inherently appealing in the information-rich web. Why would anyone ever go to the Cosmo website? Or Businessweek for that matter, other than the blogs...

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