A Modest Proposal for the Future of Online Magazines

Can a daily online-only magazine featuring quality writing and journalism survive without losing money?

Amplify’d from gawker.com

A Modest Proposal for the Future of Online MagazinesFor well over a decade, Salon.com has tried to solve the puzzle of how to put out a daily online-only magazine featuring quality writing and journalism without losing money. They’ve failed. We have just one decent idea for their survival.

Daily journalism—even Salon’s version, with a handful of superstar writers, a small stable of workhorses, and a bunch of freelancers—is expensive. The most comparable operation is Slate, which is nestled sweetly in the sheltering bosom of the Washington Post Company. This is what Salon itself now hopes to find: a large media company patron that will pick up Salon, cover its losses, and let it continue to operate, figuring that its prestige and opportunities for synergy are worth the (relatively small, by big media company standards) red ink it accumulates on a yearly basis.

It’s fair, now, to say that this particular format simply isn’t profitable. No amount of better content would make this particular format profitable. To become profitable in its current format, Salon would have to slash expenses to the point that their quality would suffer severely. Online ad money—even supplemented with subscriptions, which Salon’s tried—just won’t support the level of staff and expense necessary to produce that kind of content on an independent site. (Sorry, all you other startups who had the same idea!)

Gawker Media is a lean, mean stable of diversified blogs that can cross-sell. The Huffington Post is a bare-bones operation that takes much of its content wholesale from other news organizations, and gets another chunk donated for free by aspiring writers. Politico has print ads to bring in cash. Drudge, Perez Hilton, and other successful blogs are tiny operations with nowhere near the staff expenses of Salon. Media models that have proven to be profitable online tend to be cheap, or to have alternate revenue streams to supplement them. For Salon, and others who bring a print-style cost structure to an internet-style ad revenue stream, disappointment is almost inevitable.

And the dream of simply being scooped up by a bigger media company isn’t a sound one. Sure, it still might happen, but for how long? Big media companies have their own problems—namely, that many of their traditional properties are losing revenue to online interlopers. Like Salon! Even Slate’s parent company makes its money off test prep services, not off its namesake newspaper. Big tech companies like Yahoo that want to get into the content business are a better bet in the near term for journalism operations looking to find a new home, but they, too, will inevitably want those content businesses to prove profitable eventually; there is no free lunch at public companies. Only at Conde Nast.

Read more at gawker.com

Are iPads, smartphones, and the Mobile Web rewiring the way we think?

I’m not prepared to give up my gadgets for a week but I know that if I needed to I could. I can quite anytime (isn’t that what all addicts say?). It seems today’s technology may be determining not only how much or how often we are “plugged in” but it could be “rewiring” our entire thought process and how we experience the real world as we surf through the virtual one.

Amplify’d from www.csmonitor.com

A laptop becomes a hand-held device in Cambridge, Mass. Is the way we think evolving because of iPads, smartphones, and the Mobile Web?

Taylor Weidman/Staff

Gregory M. Lamb, / Staff writer /
July 24, 2010

It took an offer to appear on a national TV show for Wade Warren to reluctantly give up what he calls his “technology” for a week.

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This is article is part of the cover story package for the July 26, 2010, edition of The Christian Science Monitor weekly magazine.

Photo illustration: Staff

That was the only way, his mother says, that he would ever pack his 2006 MacBook (with some recent upgrades, he’ll tell you), his iPad tablet computer, and, most regretfully, his Nexus One smart phone into a cardboard box and watch them be hustled out the door of his room to a secret hiding place.

Wade, who’s 14 and heading into ninth grade, survived his seven days of technological withdrawal without updating his 136 Twitter followers about “wonky math tests” and “interesting fort escapades,” or posting on his photography product review blog, or texting his friends about… well, that’s private. But he has returned to his screens with a vengeance, making up for lost time.

Read more at www.csmonitor.com

Today’s technology may be determining not just how we spend our time: It actually may be “rewiring” the way we think, how we experience the world around us.

Techno-Cassandras fret over what’s happening to our attention spans, our ability to think and read deeply, to enjoy time with our own thoughts or a good book.

Techno-enthusiasts scoff that those concerns are nothing new: Socrates, it’s pointed out, thought that writing itself would harm a person’s ability to internalize learning, the printed word acting as a substitute for true understanding. Technologies such as printing, and in recent decades television and the pocket calculator, have all served time as villains only to become innocuous, commonplace parts of modern life. Why should helpful new technologies from Facebook and Twitter to iPhones and laptops be any different?

SXSWi: A Geekie, Gadget Girl’s DREAM!

The South by Southwest Festival officially ended yesterday in Austin, Texas.  I was in Austin for  SXSW® Interactive which featured five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology and tons of exciting networking events.  This year’s festival brought out record crowds for the interactive, film and music tracks drawing in web developers and designers, bloggers, mobile innovators, content producers, programmers, widget inventors, new media entrepreneurs and social media consultants from around the world. The five-day interactive festival showcased the latest ideas, the brightest minds and the coolest innovations of the future.  Yet, I couldn’t help be a little jealous when the energy changed as SXSW kicked off with the music track, bringing in thousands of artists that totally changed the energy to something that was just magical to watch.

My old music days aside, SXSW Interactive met all my expectations and in some cases surpassed them.  I was able to meet many of the geeky, techie folks I’ve been communicating with online over the past year.  Clearly one of the highlights for me was meeting Dave Grossman, one of the founding members of Amplify, which has become an addiction of mine.  Mostly I was able to learn, engage and connect with so many people on a variety of subjects from app development and monetizing your blog to privacy issues and protecting copyrighted material on the Internet.  But if I had to sum up my SXSWi experience in just five takeaways it would be this:

  1. Some of the hottest apps and tools are made at SXSWi.  Last year Twitter was the buzz during SXSWi and now they are getting over 17 million hits per day.  This year Foursquare was the favored app and they received 300,000 hits the first day of SXSWi alone.  If you have a product, SXSWi is the place to roll it out and if you have an iPhone you will be able to get the coolest apps around.  By the way, The Foursquare guys were the coolest, nicest fellas.
  2. SXSWi puts the “social” in “social networking”.  You have to get from behind your keyboard, unplug from your computer and move away from your laptop long enough to actually engage face-to-face with people to get the real SXSWi experience.
  3. Privacy remains a hot topic for the technology community.  One thing I will walk away with, however, is fact that how much information you do or do not share online is up to each individual and under the users control.
  4. There is still a place for good story telling online and it is the foundation for communication.  However, online, good stories are a three-way street; they include the storyteller, the audience and in third place, a shared experience together.
  5. Don’t be afraid of negative responses.  People are going to talk about you anyway so you might as well know what they are saying.  Then ask yourself, are you willing to change when you get feedback, be it negative or positive?

Good story telling, seeking feedback, talking to people face-to-face and taking control of your privacy… not something you would expect to hear from a group of people who live, work and play online, as I do.  How refreshing to know that the human element is not dead in Social Media.  In fact, we need humanity in order survive in the digital space.  I would have never drawn this conclusion before SXSWi but I’m glad to know the humans are still in running the show and are still in control.  Let’s see what next year brings!