The Wall Street Journal dissects Time Inc’s attempts to stake out territory on the vast Internet. After more false steps and mistakes (Pathfinder, anyone?), the WSJ believes Time is now ready to get it right.
Or, if you will, the time has come for Time to change the way magazines work in the print world to accommodate the web world. Let us, for the moment, skip the irony of the WSJ writing about keeping content under lock and key — much better to focus on the fact that Time realizes that the web isn’t competition; it’s simply another distribution channel. One, if managed right, can be broader and less expensive, simultaneously. Win, win.
As a media critic, I find myself amused that it took until the year 2006 for Time to do stuff like demand “… that writers produce more copy for its Web sites.” Maybe it’s because I’ve been hearing those words every day for ten years. Now, I’m not saying anything, but I do hope Time’s strategy is more than Ana Marie Cox and Andrew Sullivan. Both are fine writers, but Time’s strength, indeed its potential for web domination, will come from innovation and long tail content, in addition to unique voices and attitude.
Maybe it’s the result of the Carl Icahn effect: the sudden, almost irrational demand that companies make money for shareholders above all else. Never mind the realities of business. It’s dollars, baby. In other words, Time’s magazines may find themselves cut loose unless they start bringing in the big bucks. Barring a miracle, the print magazines aren’t going to see a huge surge in readership. I’m a magazine reader who is continually six months behind on issues. In the past year, I’ve drastically cut subscriptions due to lack of time and sheer boredom with the medium.
Daniel Okrent, late of the New York Times (never did take my issues with them seriously, that man), believes Time Inc. is on the right track. The WSJ quotes him as saying,
“I think they’re really serious about it this time,” he says, pointing to the success of SI.Com, which has focused on putting more original content on the Web. “This isn’t a second-class Sports Illustrated,” he says. “This is as good as the magazine.”
Now here’s the bad news — while I believe in the product, I don’t know how often I’ll visit the newly revamped Time website. I’ve been moving increasingly toward news aggregators and, oddly, email newsletters. Yes, kids, email is back in a big way. Time’s job is to either give me a reason to check in on a regular basis (that would be the roles of writers like Cox and Sullivan) or to find ways to suck me in via other sources. For a person who spends her days on the web, I do remarkably little surfing outside my traditional channels.
Then again, I also find myself switching channels as better sources rise to the top. Time needs to find a way to rise to the top.