Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Grading Magazines' Website Progress: C+

Magazines are slowly migrating to the web and working to address a big problem: How to transition a visual, hands-on publication to the web, much less reinvent the way advertising is used to fund it all. So what's the word?

Up against a wall of declining revenues, newspapers are moving their content to the web rapidly, albeit not efficiently. But while their inkblot cousins grab (and make) all the headlines, magazines are quietly in the internet superstore, browsing the aisles in search of a way to market their information on the web in a digestible (and profitable form).

For now, the pressure isn't there, and magazines on the web are a behind-the-scenes venture that bigwigs are excited for, ignoring the fact that they should have been there from the start. Once placeholders, magazine websites are now archives for articles. Few still have original content.

Are magazine websites compelling enough?

Here's a truncated, fresh, end-of-year analysis of magazine websites to explain why a C+ rating should signify that the 'net is more important to magazines than simply as "an exciting new venture".

Blogged down by content

A sensation for years, the blog is the symbol of dialogue between the magazine and its readers. An unedited (hopefully) version of the letters to the editor page would keep bathroom and watercooler conversation simmering long after the issue's reached the newsstands, much like message boards do. So hey, there's an idea, magazines - why don't you have a 'Letters to the Editor' blog? Wouldn't that really reflect your readership?

Video killed the magazine star

Magazines are all about the image, right? The picture is worth far more than the 1,000 words - so why don't magazines get into video? If you're looking for original content on your site, look no further than the video camera. Who says those broadcasters get to have all the fun? Teen magazines especially: Lonleygirl15 was compelling for a reason. With exactly that readership, you've got a ligitimate version of the same content.

Podcasting - a new frontier

I've seen enough magenta iPod nanos on the street to know that geeks aren't the only ones who can benefit from podcasting. Cosmo, ready those sex tips! Seventeen, ready those boy confessions! Oprah, ready those recipes! And GQ, ready those...well, you get the idea.

The news cycle and active content

Well, I know you aren't newspapers, but you ARE allowed to correct stories on the web. Hell, you're even allowed to add content - say, if you were writing a profile on Newt Gingrich and he kicked the dirt two weeks after the interview.

Classifieds for the magazine crowd

Want to keep readers on the site? Try to find a way to link up with popular social networking sites and create networks for just your readers. Actually link to these things from your own website. But for god's sake, don't create your own proprietary one. Your readers will NOT give up MySpace, Match, or whatever other site they burn the workday with.

The guise of change

But what's the biggest problem of all? Adapting the magazine format to the web. Not everyone in the world has a 28-inch plasma monitor to view those graphic nuggets of goodness (Popular Science and Wired readers may be exceptions), but the challenge is to not simply rely on PDF'ing the magazine for download. Who wants to slog through that? Like the the New York Times did with their website, reorganize your format so it's easily readable (and navigate-able, like flipping through a magazine) without losing that iconic "front page". It will be a challenge to avoid using a graphical-link-heavy website. Are you up to it?

Report Card Sample

Popular Mechanics: A- [Original content growing rapidly but new website still working out the kinks]
GQ: B+ [Cheeky ads and long loadtimes, plus that annoying style.com portal, ruin an otherwise solid and flattering layout]
Jane: A- [Too many giveaways and not enough front page - what good is a blank grey column on the right? Sarah the Virgin blog is tacky but depressingly addictive, like the other blogs]
Self: B+ [Front page too trim for an otherwise healthy and fit group of information. Points for the useful blogs]
People: B [About what you'd expect. Bravo for not going the MTV.com route]
Newsweek: B- [Time made it work with CNN. Why can't you integrate with MSNBC better? And why is your website about as attractive as a cubicle designed by Microsoft? Even Salon's got one up on you]

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