So long, The Word

The sudden announcement from The Word Magazine this morning was at least in keeping with the magazine’s own tradition – it was unexpected, unsensational and beautifully poised. And it spawned a great, great many sad responses on the magazine’s own website.

One of them was from me. I’ve read every edition of The Word since it came out nearly ten years ago. Initially, I jumped in because it seemed like a second bite of a publishing apple I’d already richly enjoyed in the shape of the early years of Q Magazine. Same editor, same publisher (Mark Ellen, David Hepworth), same very clever, very funny and deeply sensible attitude to good music.

But it soon became apparent that Ellen, Hepworth and me had grown up a lot since those early days of Q in the 1980s. We read more books now. We watched more television. The Internet had come along and made it possible for us to talk to each other. The Word masterfully catered for all these changes – and not least of them was the fact that we were all older.

Was that why it failed? That it spoke so clearly and so resonantly to people the “wrong” side of 40, who’d seen a bit of the world, had become immune to hype, didn’t care anymore about what was fashionable but only what was good? Were there not enough people like that to sell enough copies to? Or did advertisers not want to speak to them?

Probably some of that, and a big slice of the decline in recorded music revenues leading to a decline in music advertising. There are a lot of music magazines still standing – and Q itself has had a shot in the arm under the editorship of Andrew Harrison. This in itself may not have helped The Word’s fortunes.

The thing that makes me saddest of all, I realise, is that losing The Word means losing a platform for David Hepworth and Mark Ellen. I’ve come to see those two as my groovy uncles. I never read Smash Hits (their first triumph), but I was an avid watcher of Whistle Test Mark II, which they presented, and Q Magazine was there while my music tastes began to mature. The Word was there in the most recent phase, when I had some money and could buy the music I wanted to buy, not to mention the books and the DVDs. Hepworth has become possibly my favourite writer in any medium – witty, tart, urbane, warm, unimpeachable. Ellen’s enthusiasm and editorial nous made The Word into my favourite magazine. And the two of them in my ears courtesy of the The Word podcast was like being at the best dinner party anyone held ever.

By God I’m sad about this. I hope they come back, somehow, soon.

Wired iPad pricing: lower, but the same format

Last week, Conde Nast’s Bob Sauerberg explained a slightly complicated plan that had the company lowering the cost of Wired on the iPad to $3.99 for second-time buyers and keeping it at $4.99 for the first download. The idea was to offer a reward that might keep potential repeat users coming back until a subscription plan offer is in place. But the company took a sharp about-face on those plans, instead releasing the second iPad issue this week at $3.99—a 20 percent drop across the board.

via Conde Nast Does Last-Minute Pivot On Wired App Pricing | paidContent.

Conde Nast appoints director for digital magazine development

Wired Creative Director Scott Dadich’s role is expanding to corporate Conde Nast following the initial success of the magazine’s iPad app. As Executive Director, Digital Magazine Development, he’ll work at the corporate level to develop simultaneous print/digital publishing systems for the various magazine brands based on the Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) partnership and Wired model.

The publisher has been experimenting with various approaches to digital magazines. This would appear to be a vote of confidence in the Wired model, which integrates digital development with the magazine staff’s print role. The first iPad edition sold more than 96,000 downloads at $4.99; the July issue hit the App Store Wednesday.

via Updated: Wired’s Dadich Adds Corporate Digital Mag Role | paidContent.

I find it pretty interesting that several firms are setting up “digital magazine development” units separately from their web teams. The Economist has done the same. I initially thought this was bizarre, but having spoken to some of the people involved I’m beginning to think it makes sense. It also poses the always-relevant question for magazines: what is the Website for?

Gourmet Live isn’t gaming, it’s feudalism

There’s been a fair bit written about Conde Nast’s Gourmet Live application (actually, not sure it is an app or just a website, but never mind for now). Most commentators have taken the bait given in the claim that the app introduces “gaming” to the magazine. Well, I’ve just watched the video (see below), and the only “gaming” I see is that if I do certain things, I am “rewarded” with access to content that other people can’t see.

So let me see if I understand this. Gourmet Live is hiding some content from most users (so isn’t this a kind of paywall I can’t see?). And if I do things in a certain Gourmet-approved kind of way, I get to see that content.

This is wrong for two reasons. One, it hides content away, so all the paywall arguments apply here, but doubly so, because at least there’s a simple way to unlock paywalled content – by paying. Here, I have to jump through some hoops.

And there’s the second problem. It changes the relationship between publisher and reader. It makes the reader a kind of supplicant, willing to perform tasks to get treats. And, frankly, it’s just a magazine, you know? Who can be bothered?

And another, unrelated, thing. All these new magazine apps have TONS of video and TONS of photography. Who’s paying for all that stuff?

YouTube – Introducing Gourmet Live.

The Register’s surprising thumbs-up for glossy appmedia

The Register’s John Lettice takes a look at Wired’s amazing success with its first iPad edition, and is (almost despite himself) impressed:

Apple takes a 30 per cent cut of an app’s cover price, so if we estimate that Wired will move 90,000 copies this month, Conde-Nast (the publishing company) is looking at sales revenue in the region of $300,000. The seriously large (around 500 megabytes) app is also chock-full of what one presumes is high-ticket advertising, and there’s an interesting innovation here – the clickability of Wired’s advertisements is restricted.

via Did the iPad just save Wired, and Conde-Nast? • The Register.

He goes on to point out how most of the ads in the app are basically glossy non- or semi-interactive versions of print ads. And he points out that this could be a partial return to the old days when half of everyone’s ad budgets were wasted, but they didn’t know which half:

Wired’s ads in the paper edition have traditionally been largely about branding, which is a class of ad that the web’s measurability had a murderous effect on. In the old days before you could ‘tell’ how effective your ads were, you largely thought/hoped they were working, and while you could probably figure out if they were having some kind of impact, you could never really tell which spending was effective and which wasted.

This was a happy situation for the ad agencies and the publishers, but possibly not so much for the advertisers. On the other hand, the web hasn’t necessarily been good for them either. It’s undermined their ability to get their brand in front of the right customers, and CTRs (click-through rates) are a doubtful measure of whether or not an ad is getting the desired results from the desired customers.

And that’s the point, surely. As Lettice points out, click-based advertising assumes a stop-start world in which I click on an ad to find something out, even if it disrupts what I’m doing. This type of brand-advertising has less friction and can, almost by definition, insert itself into premium media without disturbing said media too much. Even an ad-dense American magazine seems easier to read than a button-strewn newspaper website. Interesting.

Is the Atlantic really resurgent?

Robin Sloan writes on how the Atlantic introduced him to ideas, and how it’s on a surge:

But the Atlantic is resurgent. I feel it. They’ve got a credible web strat egy that manages to leverage the physics of the web with out sacrificing sophistication, and it’s paying dividends

via The Atlantic rides again (again) « Snarkmarket.

I have a rather different point of view. Online, yes, the Atlantic is doing awesome work. But I resubscribed after a four year gap and the first edition arrived this week. And I have to say it’s disappointing: somehow thinner than the thing I remember. And the cover story is James Fallows’s somewhat dreamy piece about Google and the news, which we were all talking about three weeks ago. It now feels old and somehow silly to be sending me something I’ve read so closely. I cam away thinking “this is what happens when management focusses on digital – and forgets print.”

Curmudgeonly, moi.