Magazines and the Internet: A Match Made in Media Heaven

The print vs online debate has become as much an outdate cliché as the old Ginger vs Mary Ann barroom argument. Why choose? Why not just have a three-way?
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On Monday, I'm going to be speaking at the annual conference of the American Society of Magazine Editors in New York about how the mainstream media can thrive in the brave new media world by making friends with the blogosphere and embracing the online universe.

With magazine subscriptions and newsstand sales going south, and more and more readers turning to the Internet as their primary source of news, opinion, information, and entertainment, this is more than a theoretical debate.

But the more I've thought about the subject and the more research I've done, the more I've realized that the print-vs.-online debate has become as much an outdated cliché as the old Ginger-vs.-Mary Ann barroom argument. Why choose? This is 2006 -- why not just have a three-way?

Same with users embracing both the mainstream media and the online universe. It's not an either-or proposition. Despite drops in circulation, print magazines are not going the way of the dodo bird (indeed, there are over 5,000 more magazine titles on sale now than there were in 1988) -- and the 75,000 new blogs appearing every day won't be the death knell of Big Media. Instead, if the mainstream media play their cards right, the new media could provide a transfusion of energy, passion, and immediacy that will alter -- and ultimately save -- them. Provided they keep adapting to the changing technologies -- and, more importantly, the changing audience.

With more and more ad dollars being funneled into new media destinations -- analysts predict the web ad market will hit $55 billion by the end of the decade -- magazine publishers are pouring more resources into their online versions. In the last year, the big newsweeklies have all added blogs to their sites -- with Time bringing established bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Ana Marie Cox into its fold.

In fact, of all the traditional media outlets, magazines are most perfectly suited to taking advantage of the things that define the online experience. More and more of them are geared to appeal to niche audiences -- skateboarders, gardeners, music lovers, you name it -- and by doing so create communities of shared personal interests. The web allows publications to build on and deepen the relationship founded on those interests through instant feedback and interaction. It also allows like-minded readers -- a.k.a. users -- to find each other and experience the kind of social networking that has made MySpace such a phenomenon.

Seventy million people are now using MySpace. Editors everywhere, including here at HuffPost, are trying to find ways to make even a percentage of those MySpacers TheirSpacers.

They key for magazine publishers is to avoid just transferring their print content to the web and calling it a day. And many have gotten the message. We're seeing more and more magazines using their digital platforms to provide fresh content between print issues, offering a forum for their communities, and adding more and more interactive features.

As HuffPost celebrates its first anniversary next week and looks to the future, one of the things we're working on is tapping into our community and developing ways for our users also becoming content producers, reporters, extra eyes and ears on a story. Citizen journalists embodying the idea that a collection of many different perspectives on a story can sometimes be more powerful than a single authoritative voice.

I know many magazines are also looking for ways for their users to connect and create -- to be a part of the story. Which is not to say that every magazine site should become Flickr or YouTube. It's about integrating these new features while still offering the kinds of in-depth pieces they're uniquely positioned to offer.

As I said, it's definitely not a Ginger or Mary Ann situation.

Traditional magazines have immense resources. The trick is to adapt those resources to the more intimate and responsive DNA of the new media. Customize, personalize, and localize should be the watchwords.

With hundreds of channels, dozens of media platforms, and billions of websites, consumers are no longer forced to watch or read or listen to things they don't really want. These limitless options -- and the flexibility of our TiVo/iPod world -- have forced content providers to up their game. In the end, whatever the platform -- magazine, newspaper, TV, movie computer, cell phone, PDA -- content is still king. Now more than ever.

Okay, HuffPosters, now it's your turn. What thoughts/concepts/ideas/request can I share with the magazine editors on Monday? What should they be doing to help them thrive in the new media future?

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