Growing up I remember my parents subscribing to three magazines: The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Harper’s. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve seen updates on how each is faring online. Results vary. A lot.
Let’s start with the worst…
It wasn’t all that long ago that I was considering subscribing to Harper’s. They have some great essays, including this quality August nonfiction essay: Happiness is a Worn Gun. But if this week’s column by the magazine’s publisher is any indication, Harper’s holds the web in outright contempt. Publisher John MacArthur describes his web strategy as “protectionist” and that says it all. MacArthur is impervious to the recommendations of “internet hucksters”. Moreover, he’s “offended” by “the online sensibility”.
The internet’s impact on our politics is a controversial topic. There are a diverse range of respectable views on the subject. But it’s clear MacArthur has no interest in pro-internet arguments, no matter their merit or credentials. He prefers to dismiss them, just like he dismissed email. And we all know how that turned out… No joke, this is the argument. You can’t make this up.
With a publisher like this at the helm, I’m not optimistic about Harper’s chances. And that’s a real shame.
The New Yorker is my boring, middle-of-the-road example here. It’s not a natural web innovator, but it hasn’t rolled over either. They’ve got a robust blogs section. And they recently redesigned their site. It feels more web-like, yet preserves much of the classic New Yorker look.
Full disclosure: The Atlantic was my favorite of the three growing up. And it still is. These days a lot of that is due to its excellence online. The magazine has assembled a top-notch team of bloggers, built around the celebrity of Andrew Sullivan. And just months ago it launched a terrific Technology channel which quickly became my favorite source of tech news and analysis. On top of that, they’ve parleyed it all into profit.
I could go on at length about all the reasons online matters, but for now I’ll address only how it impacts my consumption and support of these magazines. I can say with confidence that so long as John MacArthur is publisher of Harper’s I will never subscribe. I was given a subscription to The New Yorker as a gift, and I’m really enjoying it. But would I purchase it on my own? Doubtful. On any given week I read maybe 2 New Yorker pieces. But the Atlantic? It’s increasingly a go-to source for me. I haven’t subscribed to the magazine, but that’s more a reflection of how I read the news. If they ever offered a donation model, I’d happily support them. Not that they’d need it, given their success with advertising revenue.