Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sign o' the times*

Greetings all, and a very happy New Year, if somewhat belated.

There's a fascinating if sobering article in this week's Tribune (and over at Gauche) about the future of small, lefty magazines in Britain. It's brave stuff for Tribune itself to be printing, and comes as an uneasy reminder that, barely 10 years after the advent of the Internet, the initial predictions that it would swallow the print industry whole are suddenly looking much less far-fetched.

So what of Tribune, New Statesman, Red Pepper, New Humanist, Index on Censorship, New Left Review and their ilk? If this was the corporate sector, the obvious answer would be "Merge!", but that's a bit like asking the People's Front of Judea to patch things up with the Judean People's Front (splitters!).

Paul's article gives voice to concerns that have surely been rattling around the cramped offices of the above-mentioned publications for years, as core audiences dwindle, age and die. Transferring content to a snazzy, "interactive" website is definitely one way to modernise and potentially get more readers. Thing is, will the same amount of reader be willing to pay for online content, when the trend is increasingly for free user access? Banners and other forms of internet advertising are usually enough (when properly managed) to cover web hosting fees and possibly design costs, but as for staff wages, you can pretty much forget it.

The idea of paying per article won't work either, as this form of revenue won't be regular enough to provide any kind of stability in earnings. So that brings us back to annual subscriptions. Theoretically these could be cheaper on the internet than for printed magazines, as printing and distributing costs would be factored out of the sum. But how common are annual subcription fees for online magazines outside the business and finance sectors?

The other logical solution, which would again be anathema to most independent lefty magazines, would be to sell out to a larger publishing house or news corporation, like Slate magazine in the US, which is owned by the Washington Post Company. I can't really see that happening in this country, can you? The divergence of editorial views is just too large.

So where, then, for the average independent left-wing weekly (or bi-weekly, monthly or bi-monthly)? My own prediction is for a maximum of 10 more years surviving on one-off private donations before most will be forced to either shut down, make the switch to a completely online format (and thus end up being largely reliant on volunteer contributions) or look for buyers. In an ideal world, the best of the talent from each of these magazines would then come together and create a bigger and better new forum online. A forum aimed at younger people who use the internet at their main source of information, and who still want to have access to quality, intelligent, progressive feature journalism. We're still out there!

* Prince still sucks.


At January 19, 2007 11:55 am, Anonymous Pig Champion RIP said...

"Tribune, New Statesman, Red Pepper, New Humanist, Index on Censorship, New Left Review and their ilk?"

Maybe it's not all bad. I wouldn't mind seeing the back of Red Pepper, New Left Review and - to a smaller extent - the Staggers. How many times can you write Bush=Nazi (expand by 1,000 words)?

Pay-for websites are a bloody pain in the backside, and I'd love to see a breakdown in figures for the number of people paying for online copy, or PDFs of pages (an idea raised by Tribune at one point I beleive).

At January 23, 2007 3:10 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Prince still sucks"

You have forfeited the right to be taken seriously on anything

At January 23, 2007 4:40 pm, Blogger Lady M said...

Surely the fact that I wrote that line in the first place is a teeny tiny clue that I wasn't trying to be taken seriously to begin with?


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