Print is not a Burden: Useless Drivel is the Burden

May 7th, 2008

An article appeared on May 5th in the New York Times called “Publisher Tested the Waters Online, Then Dove In.” In glowing terms, it recounts the apparently amazing transformation of media giant IDG from primarily a print-based magazine publisher to an online publisher.

The article moved quickly onto the Times‘ most-read and most-blogged list (today it’s still #5 on the most-blogged list), and I figured that I’d just let that one go, particularly as my blog has been focusing quite a bit on magazines for the last week.

But I couldn’t resist getting a comment on the record, and so posted a remark on Jeff Jarvis’ excellent Buzz Machine blog. I wrote:

“I read this article with some incredulity. It reads more like a corporate brochure than a carefully-researched piece of journalism. First of all, IDG is privately held, so there’s no way to check into what’s been happening to the overall sales and profitability of the company in its transition to digital.

“Mr. McGovern states “The excellent thing, and good news, for publishers is that there is life after print, in fact, a better life after print,’ and the major evidence offered is that today, I.D.G. says, the InfoWorld web site is generating ad revenue of $1.6 million a month with operating profit margins of 37 percent. A year earlier, when it had both print and online versions, InfoWorld had a slight operating loss on monthly revenue of $1.5 million.’

OK on that, but what about before the dotcom bust? I’d be surprised if the profitability of the publication was not significantly higher.

I applaud IDG on its bold moves, but wonder if Mr. McGovern doesn’t sometimes wish for the good old days before the Web.

I’d have let it go at that if I’d not today stumbled upon an entry on Rex Hammock’s also excellent The blog entry, titled, “Print is not a burden. Useless drivel is the burden.” So ignore this post, is for me the final word on the affair, although it’s really more about content than the IDG story, per se.

Just one quote:

“Unfortunately, saying ‘print is a burden’ implies that there are other options out there that are not burdens. Frankly, the web is a burden. Traveling to events IDG puts on is a burden. Trying to synch my phone and computer is a burden.If you publish a beautiful magazine with articles that really matter to me, that instruct, inform or celebrate something I feel strongly about, it is no burden on me. If you help me get to the information and insight I need to live a fuller life or conduct business in a more flexible and productive way, your blogging and tweeting and bookmarking does not burden me. Useless, redundant, meaningless, re-shuffled drivel is the burden. It can be delivered via print or on a weblog or a mobile device. Crap is a burden no matter what the medium used to deliver it.”

A powerful reminder that the medium is not necessarily the message.