Ah, how so much has changed in such a short span of years. And yet, Wired’s Chris Anderson is apparently obsessed with the “death” of publishing mediums.
For those of you who haven’t seen or heard about it yet, the cover story of the Condé Nast tech title’s September issue is called “The Web is Dead.” It’s a two part story with the “What Happened” portion written by Anderson and the “And Why” portion penned by new contributing editor Michael Wolff. Ironically, the story generated a huge amount of buzz last week when the story was posted—yes—to the magazine’s Web site.
Chalk it up to being too busy, but I never got around to actually reading the piece until early this week when the print copy landed on my desk. Seeing it there made me recall an issue FOLIO: published in 2006, before I started working here. The cover story for the September issue that year was an interview with Anderson following the release of his book, “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Businesses is Selling Less of More". In short, Anderson’s theory contended that the digital format makes it economically viable to offer a vast range of content that can’t be offered physically.
The cover line for that issue was, Print: “Not Dead But Not Enough.” In the story, Anderson said, “Let’s put aside the print version. No, it’s not dead but it’s not enough. The day when you could shovel your stuff onto the Web site and people would bookmark it and come back are pretty much gone. The fact is, you are one of dozens of content sources that people are consuming in an omnivorous media menu. Increasingly, it’s not people coming to your Web site. It’s people seeing you mentioned elsewhere. It’s not people coming to your front page but coming directly to a story because someone linked to it.”
He was right. Even when I was hired here the following summer, in July 2007, one of my main objectives was to build up the news operation so that our readers online would log onto our homepage first thing in the morning and keep the site up, refreshing it periodically throughout the day. And even though breaking news is a lot different than regurgitating content straight from the print magazine online Anderson was right, even then, about a portal Web site no longer being a “must go” or a “must read.” Sure, FOLIOmag.com still gets a decent chunk of its traffic from readers going directly to our homepage, but that chunk is being whittled down as more readers are coming in through the back door, by way of aggregators, e-newsletters, other news sites and social media.
Maybe I should have read that story a little closer before I clocked in for work.
So, is the Web Really Dead?
No, it’s not dead. But the rise of mobile and apps, and the way we’re consuming media, is altering the way we turn to the Web for information. In publishing, when people were ringing print’s death knell and jumping online, no one had a surefire way of monetizing their efforts there. (How many times have I heard people complain about “online nickels versus print dollars”?) Years later, publishers still haven’t been able to adequately make money from the Web, whether from display ads or charging for content.
“The fact that it’s easier for companies to make money on these platforms [mobile apps] only cements the trend,” Anderson writes in Wired. “Producers and consumers agree: The Web is not the culmination of the digital revolution.”
Wolff also has a good point, a potentially positive one: “If we’re moving away from the open Web, it’s at least in part because of the rising dominance of business people more inclined to think in the all-or-nothing terms of traditional media than in the come-one-come-all collectivist utopian of the Web. This is not just natural maturation but in many ways the result of a competing idea—one that rejects the Web’s ethic, technology, and business models.”
I hope he’s right. I hope publishers cook up a formula(s) for making real money from apps, etc.
In the meantime, though, I have to admit that reading a story about the death of the Web in a print magazine is somewhat amusing.