I'm glad this site doesn't rely on advertising because ...
By David Walker (Google profile)
The magazine model says you can draw Web site visitors to view original text, images and rich media, and then show them ads as they look. And the evidence of its distress is growing as the Great Web Shake-Out continues, as big-name Web businesses get taken over, shrink, or just plain disappear.
A disproportionate number of today's troubled dot-coms had based their continued survival on that magazine model. Digital Entertainment Network, which closed in May of 2000, was creating jerky little Web videos. APB.com, which ran out of money in June, had dozens of people writing crime news. Australia's Zeitgeist Gazette was trying to find a new slant on local current affairs in a country where nothing much ever happens. And Salon.com, whose boss sacked 13 staff (including his wife) in June 2000, was a sort of New Yorker magazine for the Internet.
Salon still claims it will make money Some Time Real Soon Now, and other ad-supported original content Web ventures are ploughing ahead too. And some of today's losses can be attributed to bad management and boom-time extravagance. But right now, very few sites look capable of making money out of the magazine model. And a credible model for ad-supported original Web text, images and rich media looks further away today than it has in a long time. If you had to rate the magazine model for Web content, you'd give it about 4/10 and dropping.
The magazine model isn't the only Web content model that's in trouble. Indeed, of the five basic Web content models, only two can be said to be thriving. Take the other four models one by one:
- Repurposed media content, such as newspaper Web sites, deriving some revenue from advertising but relying mostly on getting high-quality content for free. This type of content will clearly continue to appear in great quantity on the Web, in sites from the Illawarra Mercury to the New York Times. These sites' business purpose is often far from clear, but they give puzzled newspaper and electronic media owners an option on the future and bewildered editors the unfamiliar feeling of being at the cutting edge of communications media. Rating: 5/10 and steady.
- Content supporting transactions, such as readers' reviews at Amazon.com and market commentaries at share-trading sites. This type of content is working powerfully within niches: books and music are obvious examples, but big-ticket purchases such as real estate and cars also create demand for transaction advice. And site managers can gauge its effectiveness at driving transactions. Rating: 7/10 and rising. (He-would-say-that alert: this columnist makes his living out of one such site.)
- Subscription content, where users pay a fee to download content. A handful of credible middle-level analysts such as brokers and consultants are making this model work. So are porn merchants and the Wall Street Journal. But in the mass market, subscription has been in retreat since 1998. Business Week, the New York Times and Slate have all tried and scrapped subscription fees, and former subscription poster child TheStreet.com began free access to parts of its site in January. If the Internet is like the public library, then the inside of the public library is a lousy place to sell magazines. Rating: 2/10 and sliding towards a very small niche indeed.
- Enthusiasts' sites, supported by the devotion of creators interested in spreading a point of view. The Web began like this: Yahoo! was once an enthusiasts' site. And in raw numbers, the Web remains predominantly an enthusiasts' enterprise, spanning everything from sophisticated efforts like Bartleby and The Remedi Project to one-person delights such as kottke.org, Carol Jackson's Fine Art Archive and Stephen Mayne's larrikin politics-and-media scandal sheet Crikey.com.au. The two giants of this field include Amazon - all those free book reviews - and Epinions.com, which indexes the opinions of its users about everything from James Joyce to Burger King. That old, brutally accurate attack on democratic market-economy societies - that they offer a free press "for anyone who owns one" - is no longer true. That's a revolutionary achievement on its own. Rating: 9/10 and steady.
The two really healthy models - unpaid enthusiasm and transaction support - don't always get the attention they deserve. But on trends to date, they're where the action will be. If you want to make money out of magazines, you're probably best off with the type that leave ink on your fingers.