Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Newspapers Aren't Essential, And Other Reasons Why This Week's Bivings Report On Magazines And The Web Is Flawed

Magazines are slower at adopting Web 2.0 trends than newspapers, according to a recent Bivings Report study and a post on this blog eons ago.

The study's authors write, via Romenesko:

"We can hypothesize that this is due to the differing cultures surrounding the two types of print media: newspapers and the content they present are essential to most people's daily lives. In contrast most magazines are something 'extra,' and are often focused on entertainment."

Wait a second, newspapermen: Since when is newspaper content by definition more essential to most people's lives than magazines?

Now I'm not here to fight the magazine fight, and I could sit here for hours and write about how much the "duh" factor comes in about magazine websites becoming full of unique content. But it looks to me like the study's authors are taking it for granted that newspapers are essential.

In a study that makes claims based on data, there's little data to support this. Why do most Americans need the newspaper? And what exactly is defined by "a newspaper"?

In my opinion, it can be argued, reasonably, that everything past the front page section of the newspaper (plus the figures from the business and sports sections) is entertainment. Top feature writer Paula Span said to me last week that feature writing is nearly half of all the writing in a newspaper. And nowhere is it more evident than the front section pages of the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, the Washington Post, all the way down to your local rag.

Now feature writing and "entertainment" aren't exactly coterminous, but you can see where I'm going with this. A good portion of your daily newspaper is the same fodder that runs in a magazine. So I take objection to this assumption in the Bivings study.

So what, then? How do you explain the slow migration by glossies to the Web?

One word: Pictures.

Magazines thrive on images, and the Web is a text-driven vehicle, no matter how much you dress it up with images and video. Magazines, on the other hand, thrive on their artwork. The tangible nature of having that in your hands -- which I'm sure lends itself some perceived value -- is a good bet as to why magazines generally didn't see the need to run to the Web.

It boils down to this: The Web can replace a newspaper. But it can only supplement a magazine. And that's why I've never received a paper copy of The New York Times in my mailbox but I receive a small handful of monthly glossies.

It's not the entertainment content. It's the format.

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