“Who’s to say they would have gotten 10 million page views if they put the whole thing up?” asked Eric Gillin, Web editor of Esquire, of the Grigoriadis piece. “Maybe that is the best case scenario for them! Maybe a 10,000-word piece wouldn’t work online. It is short-attention-span theater out there. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that—a win-win for everyone.”
Also: Everyone believes that no one of us knows anything yet! Except?
“The studies show that—this is all going to seem very counterintuitive, bear with me!—the studies have shown, 80 to 90 percent of people that visit the Web sites for magazines neither buy nor subscribe nor have anything to do with the print publications,” said Mr. Gillin.
So, publishing the whole article on the Web won’t ruin newsstand sales, because the people who buy on the newsstand don’t look at the Web site anyway!
Hrrm. “I honestly don’t know if it would result in fewer sales or not,” said Mr. Dana.
“Well, we have an interesting test of this,” said James Meigs, editor of Popular Mechanics. “A little over a year ago, we had a big cover story on biofuels. … We’d been out about two weeks when President Bush gave that speech about energy policy. Used to be when you ran a monthly you’d cross your fingers that people would read it—you’d ask your PR people to send out a press release. And we looked at it and said, this debate is gonna happen on the Web. We need to be there. We put the whole story up online. We got just, I don’t recall the exact numbers, the best traffic we’d ever gotten. We sent notes out to various bloggers that we work with, and we really got a huge, huge reaction to the piece … even though we were still on the newsstands. Most editors would have looked at this and said it wasn’t worth the risk. It turned out to be one of our best-selling issues of the year even though we’d given away the story for free online.”
In November, Popular Mechanics started exhibiting more and more traffic spikes, the result of promoting and packaging timely stories aggressively—in at least one case, for a story about avalanches, while the issue containing the story was still at the printer.
At the end of last month, Esquire’s traffic begins to show spiking as well—the result of “an extremely informal relationship” with Yahoo, in which the portal, or whatever it is, features the occasional Esquire story on its front page.
New York, with all its blogs and all its content, and Rolling Stone, splitting the difference and doing what it always has done, both largely get for traffic what they have always got.
Except for Lindsay and Britney.
Where non-tabloid (or, in Kurtz-world, non-“mob”) magazines are losing readers is on the newsstand. The New Yorker, for one, lost nearly 10 percent of its newsstand sales in the second half of 2007; Esquire was down more than 6 percent (it also had a price increase). Where they are only beginning to gain readers is on the Web.
But the Internet—who knows what it wants?
On Friday, I went to Harvey Levin, TMZ honcho and high-traffic king of all tabloid media, with one question:
Has he read all of Vanessa Grigoriadis’ story on Britney Spears in Rolling Stone? The answer came back: “Unfortunately this is something Harvey is going to have to pass on as his schedule is not permitting time at the moment.”