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When Does a Blog Become a Magazine?

While the Web is certainly a publishing destination in and of itself, I constantly find myself amazed by sites that bridge the gap between concrete and cyberspace. Specifically, I’m talking about sites like the New York Times, Wired, MacWorld, and a host of other Web-and-print outfits.

Half of my attraction to sites like this is the fact that they’re all viewed as major publications. The other half is that they convey such an impressive breadth of information in a way that is both entertaining and easily-consumable for your average Internet Joe. One thing these sites have in common is that they were all highly successful print outfits before they became successful Web destinations. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that all of this is about to change…

Blogs: turning the paradigm on its head

MagazinesThere are quite a few bloggers who are essentially running bona-fide publications, and some of them make good money doing it. In my opinion, a few of these sites have reached their tipping points, and they have become as much a part of our information pipeline as any reasonably successful magazine or newspaper.

The next logical step for some of these blogs is to foray into other types of media and to explore different avenues of monetization. One need look no further than a local bookstore to realize that printed works represent a huge opportunity for expansion. Whereas print was once viewed as the starting point for growth, I think that more than ever, it is now becoming a destination for those among us who become successful purveyors of information.

I think it will be fascinating when somebody makes the transition from blog to print, especially given that print-to-Web has been the only real “working model” to date.

Case Study: the TechCrunch Blogs

If anyone is on the precipice of bridging the old media/new media gap, it’s TechCrunch. The TC network basically fills the Web development news niche (at least from the corporate/business angle), and there are no real competitors in the print space. Business 2.0 and Wired come to mind, but both of these publications have a broader focus and cannot afford to threaten their ad space with news of the next Web-based video startup that is sure to flop because monetization was never discussed in the boardroom (aka grandma’s garage in Palo Alto).

By now you probably know that TechCrunch has expanded its offerings to include a blog about all things mobile, a podcast, a “notes” blog, a job board, and strangely enough, a gadget site which exists in a marketplace more crowded than a NYC subway at 8:00 am.

Taken in aggregate, these sites represent a fairly robust publishing outfit, and it’s common knowledge that Michael Arrington has forged a great business out of the entire thing. Well, let me clarify that – he’s forged a great business by blogging/Web standards.

I think he could do much, much more.

Why expand into print?

The value of having your brand appear in print cannot be overstated. Even now, in spite of the utter ubiquity of the Web, branding through print still allows for a deeper, more profound penetration into the public marketplace. It’s true that the costs associated with launching in print are high, but for Web sites that have already achieved a certain “superstar” status, the transition is much more of a no-brainer. Why?

Sponsorships are covered. One of the biggest challenges facing emerging magazines is acquiring stable sponsorships and filling out their ad space. This is an area where TechCrunch excels, as evidenced by the $60,000 per month worth of space that’s currently filled in the upper right corner of the site. I’m sure there are plenty of other Web companies who would love to bootstrap their name to a printed version of TechCrunch, so I think they’ve got this area covered.

Your initial offering will be well-received. With 85,000+ readers via RSS, it’s not as though “TC The Magazine” will have to hope for subscribers. I bet they’d bag 20,000 subscriptions right off the bat, and while I’m no print analyst, I certainly think those numbers would shake down in favor of TechCrunch.

You can expand into the “quality” sector. One thing that is common among all of the TechCrunch sites is that there’s not a whole lot of journalism going on. It’s mostly a stream of regurgitation, and yet it still works like a champ! A foray into the world of print allows for more in depth, more journalistic articles, and all signs indicate that this sector of the market is ready for big time print coverage. Nobody is in a better position to make that a reality than Michael Arrington.

The bottom line

As with most matters in business, this issue is mostly about money. Despite that, I think this is also about being able to look beyond the Web, as those of us who do business in this realm tend to shy away from things that cannot be accomplished “virtually.”

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard people make the ridiculous claim that “print is dead” because of rising costs coupled with the comparatively low cost of starting a Web site. One thing this debate needs, however, is a healthy dose of sound reasoning. Print is essentially the physical embodiment of the most powerful marketing technique there is – storytelling. People want to be told stories, and given that not much has changed in that area since the beginning of recorded history, I don’t think print is likely to go the way of the dodo anytime soon.

The one thing that will change about print is the way that publishers enter that marketplace. I talked about it earlier, but I’ll say it again here for clarity – print was once the starting point, but in the years to come, print will become the destination for those who prove their mettle on the Web.

The game isn’t changing because print is becoming too costly. Instead, the game is changing because the Web now provides the ultimate cost-effective proving ground for both ideas and fledgling publications. Finally, companies don’t have to blow a ton of money getting their printed material together in hopes that it will be well-received. Thanks to their experience on the Web, they’ll know if their material has what it takes to become successful in the print space, and the overall risk will be diminished as a result.

All in all, nothing earth-shattering is really happening here…

It’s just a smarter way of doing business.

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33 comments… read them below or add one

Eoin Purcell August 21, 2006

Excellent post Chris. really enjoyed it.
Eoin

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Brian Clark August 21, 2006

Although it’s counter-intuitive, your point about a proving ground is solid. Magazines cost a fortune to launch, and more often than not, they fail.

This may well be what TechCrunch has in mind. Back when web 1.0 really heated up, mags like Industry Standard were huge temporary cash cows… they raked it in until the stock market (and they) imploded.

If Web 2.0 turns out to be more of a long boom, TechCrunch could definitely score big time by going into printed form, assuming anyone reads those magazine things anymore. :)

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Mike August 22, 2006

I’ve been accumulating data on turning a blog into a blogazine.

As usual, you’re way ahead of me.

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John Evans (Syntagma Media) August 22, 2006

As someone who has edited national magazines in the UK and now publishes a Web Network Magazine (formerly a “blog network”), I can see where you’re coming from.

Jason Calacanis is right to say it’s all about scale. And the scales in the print world have moved in the opposite direction to that in the virtual world. Leaving aside the long tail of on-demand publishing, to make it in the glossy mag business you need to have the backing of a big media outfit. While Michael Arrington is very big fish in the blogosphere, he’d be the merest minnow in the big print world and quickly swallowed up by one of the conglomerates.

That’s not to say your basic point is wrong, just that we all want what we haven’t got. PrintCos want to be online. WebCos want to be in print. Rupert Murdoch can afford both. But can the Techcrunchers?

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Greg Kiernan August 22, 2006

Great post there Chris!

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Amrit Hallan August 22, 2006

Hi Chris

A very detailed, engaging analysis and quite a valid one. The only thing is, do the people at TechCrunch (or any other such blog, for that matter) really want to venture into print publishing unless it is a major objective? There are blogs, and there are online magazines — Wired etc. — and they are two different things, two different ideologies. Most blogs are, as you mentioned, regurgitated manifestation of content existing somewhere else, generated by someone else. All/most of those 80,000 odd RSS subscribers then go to TechCrunch to may be (although I plan to, I haven’t visited TechCrunch much) then find useful links to go to? Unless blogs like TC produce original content, publishing a magazine would be tough thing for them. Since I hate being a nay sayer, if they really want to do it, given their vertical penetration, of course they can do it.

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Chris P. August 22, 2006

John, Amrit, and others:

I realize that there are ideological differences between Web and print, but as I stated in the post, this is primarily about money. As an information purveyor (TC et al), one way you can leverage a growing brand is to expand into another type of media. Both television and print seem viable, and I think that TC in particular is in a great position to do this thanks to a growing staff and a contact list that is basically a “who’s who” of the growing Web.

It’s all speculative, of course, but my original intent was simply to get people thinking about blogs outgrowing their original confines. It’s bound to happen, and I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later.

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TDH August 22, 2006

I think you’re pretty spot on here. TechCrunch (again, it’s the established example here) shouldn’t have any problems funding a print venture – as been stated they already cash in quite a bit with their sponsors. Printing isn’t that expensive really, distribution is the devil here. Again, you’re spot on since TechCrunch has such an established reader base. If they can calculate with 20,000 subscribers from day one, then I’d reckon they’re good to go – all ad sales are going to be money in the pocket, and what’s left of the subscription fees can be used to promote and ensure distribution. They could do it the chicken way, just making the magazine available through their site at first, or they could spend a bit more and go nationwide.

Either way, they’re on track without the usual start-up costs for a print magazine.

So why isn’t it a go? Content. You touched this briefly but I’d say this is a major issue here. Reproducing the TechCrunch site in print is useless and just won’t work – they need quality content with way more depth, and they need it TechCrunch style. If they fail to recruit or produce true magazine content with their online feel, they’ll soon be reduced to another upstart mag and will lose readers in print. If they haven’t been careful in their print planning they’ll end up with invoices over their heads.

I think you should go into print only if you could testify to one of the following:

1. I need the PR boost print will give me in the “major player” department. Web is my first priority, the magazine’s the spinoff.

2. I’m dedicated to print (as well as web of course) and want to make the magazine the major product – this is where the big money is. The web will be my tool from here on, and almost all profits from here will be used to further establish the magazine.

A solid plan is a must here. Cashing in the way TechCrunch appears to do could be the base to build a secure print launch on, without doing the extravagant stuff, just getting it out there. However, if the going gets tough you sure need to have your priorities right. And if you end up with a crashed magazine and a web presence that hasn’t been what it should’ve been the last year or so, then your days are numbered.

Web might be a natural stepping stone to print these days, but if the strategy isn’t there it’ll just spell disaster.

And I realize this should’ve been a blog post on its own. Dammit.

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David Krug August 23, 2006

Ok, Been thinking long and hard on this one. TechCrunch is far to biased to be a real publication. What needs to happen is for more people to question why we have a guy who cant run a startup (Edgeio) to actually write about them. And how objective can he be when he is taking money from many of them in his classifieds area, and also his sponsors.

Just a question.

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Chris P. August 23, 2006

People seem to be missing the point here. The goal of expanding into print would be to branch out, to increase the boundaries, the reach, the scope, and the quality level of the brand as a whole.

Expansion, people! They’ve already laid a tremendous foundation at TechCrunch, and I hold the opinion that they have the option to turn it into something that is bigger, broader, and better.

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John Evans (Syntagma Media) August 23, 2006

Thord and Chris make good points on content. Some bloggers would hack it in the big print world, but most wouldn’t.

Take Stephen Baker of BusinessWeek. He can write punchy blog post at Blogspotting, produce a long cover story for the print mag and write a book on math — all at the same time. But to find people like that and hire them is a world away from hiring tech bloggers. The blogosphere is a unique concentration of geek resources which we rightly marvel at. But try and take the concept out into the real world where Robert Scoble is totally unknown and you need a new paradigm.

I guess what Chris is musing on is where does a TechCrunch go from here? Personally, I don’t think it’s print, except perhaps a small cheap bulletin to test the waters. My answer would be to find big online partners and provision them with the TechCrunch content.

If Michael shot the rapids out into the paper market, he’d have a very bumpy ride.

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David Krug August 23, 2006

Chris,
I got your point. You missed mine. The guys not unbiased and yeah he might do print. But I’d be the first to tell my friends not to buy it.

Arrington isnt looking to go to print I dont think. I think he’s looking to sell out. Just my guess if you cant’ make it with Edgeio make it with TechCrunch and make it big.

Look for Yahoo or MSN to snag this one up before the years up.

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Chris P. August 23, 2006

Speculators beware!

I never said that TechCrunch was looking to go this direction.

I used them as a case study of someone who has the media power and the pawns in place to make it happen.

I suggest nothing in the post beyond the notion that someone, somewhere, sometime soon is going to bridge the new media/old media gap like Travis Pastrana doing a double backflip at the freaking X Games.

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Debbie Ridpath Ohi August 28, 2006

A great post. I’ve mentioned it in Inkygirl.com.

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B.Neat August 29, 2006

Travis Pastranas’ double backflip! Finally, something in your blog that I can actually relate to! Now where’s the “any” key?

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Arun September 26, 2006

I don’t know about TechCrunch expanding into the print media sector, but I totally agree with your last paragraph about the ‘game’ changing.

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raj October 11, 2006

While I like your idea about TechCrunch the mag, as a former magazine publisher (albeit a small one), one thing I learned talking to other publishers (and researching) is that subscriptions rarely pay for the cost of print. When I started my now-defunct mag, Wired had just started. They struggled quite a lot, as did many others during that time. They’d have to get at least 50,000+ (if not 100 K) subscribers, I’m thinking, to get committed print advertisers and sponsors.

Michael may have a headstart over other tech mags that would want to start, but mag publishing is a whole other workflow than web. If he divides his time, I doubt his web version will be as good. Just my thoughts.

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Chris P. October 11, 2006

Raj,

I totally agree about the costs and problems associated with entering the print space.

I suppose my thoughts were rooted in the idea that people like Oprah or Martha Stewart (god help me) have been able to create media empires that span a fairly wide range of disciplines.

Clearly, they cannot personally oversee all aspects of each component of their empire, but the truth is, they can attach their name — their brand — to something and watch it flourish.

Personally, I think there is a critical mass that exists in the blogosphere. Once this mass is reached, I think the possibilities for ventures into new and different types of media begin to open up.

The print space is one logical sector, but perhaps something like niche TV makes more sense. I think if I were running a growing media “empire,” I’d be looking at video.

I probably just had print on the brain here because something about it is quite alluring, at least for me. Then again, I’m a design nerd.

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raj October 11, 2006

Well, Chris, I write about IPTV/ mobile TV/ streaming video, etc. at two sites. If you and Brian ever come up with your own TV show, make sure to let us all know :)

What would you call it? Copyfied? Copified? Hmm. Sounds better than it looks in print :)

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Brian January 22, 2007

As someone who took a website with a 30,000+ membership into the print realm and then failed miserably, leading to personal bankruptcy, I say, stick with the web. Print is a monster that will eat you alive without the right backing. I got three issues printed and then drove deep into the red.

Sorry, this is a duuummmmb idea.

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Wendy April 5, 2007

Awesome article, Chris. I’m actually in the same boat, in terms being one of those online magazine editors you were talking about. A new magazine recently started up at my school (Emerson College in Boston) and we’re all online. Much of this is due to the “expensive print issues” you brought up earlier. Sorry for the shameless self-promotion, but if any of your readers want to, please check it out. The favor would be appreciated.

Here’s the link:

http://www.emmagonline.com

Thanks.

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Inge June 10, 2007

Great post. Chris. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Inge

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Chi from the Cool Clouds October 3, 2007

You’re a techno prohphet, hey !

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AftemeTeelf December 18, 2007

Hi buddie
battler

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g February 18, 2008

http://www.frmag.com/

other ideas…

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melina October 25, 2008

Wow, this is very interesting to think about, thanks!

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Lance January 10, 2009

I just realized I can actually turn my blog into a book, but I’ll consider that in the future.. maybe when I’m old, so I could read it myself and share it to others..lol
Thanks!

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Nick Clarke January 28, 2009

Hi guys,
Brilliant, interesting post. My Website started out as a simple blog and then turned into an online magazine with magazine-quality editorial, design and sponsors. I guess all it takes is some full-time dedication, a loyal following readers and some interested advertisers. Check it out, y’all!
N x

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Dave Motheral February 3, 2009

We have been toying with this idea. We just launched a partnership with Kodak to offer their Insite Portal Products as a service. This means we have the capability to push to a plate-ready file to any printing company.

I agree with some of the comments that the business models are so different there is a ways to go. You need a new method of distribution unless you just mail everything (which may be the way to go). We are partnered with a few printing companies and a mailing services company.

I think you need to figure out the advertising model before it can move (need Adwords tie-in).

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Smommaavainny June 3, 2009

Sweet blog. I never know what I am going to come across next. I think you should do more posting as you have some pretty intelligent stuff to say.

I’ll be watching you :)

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Caleb June 10, 2009

Very good perspective. Most importantly, I believe magazines and will be one of the last standing print medium that will get through the digitization of dead-tree publications.

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In LA June 27, 2009

First, great analysis. However, we have YET to see a popular blog become a major media publication. TechCrunch (Love the site) probably could not reach the mainstream distribution numbers (Due to limited niche) of a Wired, Business 2.0, WSJ, Industry Standard or Fast Company (RIP). Further, market fragmentation does not appeal to most mainstream Advertisers – which incidentally remains the primary source of revenue for most online and offline media (Online being the greater of the two). Advertisers are still largely interested in eyeballs (Circulation for print and on the web, it’s still all about traffic). We will see the same model in other forms of media such as Television – rather than the networks spending millions to launch a pilot, a show will be launched online and if successful (Meaning, able to capture a regular viewing audience), the show will expand to the broadcast schedule.

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Gavin October 17, 2009

Good blog. Always enjoy magazines over blogs, but I’m old fashioned :-)

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