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The Demise Of The Net Magazine 229

Posted by JonKatz
from the -why-the-end-of-Suck-sucks- dept.
Yet another phase of the Net era ended earlier this week when two of the Web's oldest magazines, Feed and Suck, merged last year into Automatic Media, announced they were shutting down and laying off their already miniscule staffs. The end of these two ground-breaking sites, and the troubles afflicting Salon, Inside and Slate are historic for new media and cyberspace. Many in the geek and hacker universe have arrogantly underestimated Big Media as being both toothless and clueless. It's true that they don't really want to shut you up or throw you in jail -- you aren't worth the cost or trouble. But that doesn't mean they're harmless. Big Media will homogenize opinion, marginalize you and other smaller competitors and make it impossible for anyone else to compete or grow in the emerging Net AOL/Disney/Sony information economy.

The virtual extinction of the online magazine is upon us. Slate exists primarily as a massively-subsidized bulletin board for narcissistic Washington and New York publishing and media people -- it wouldn't last an hour without Microsoft's cash. Word folded last year and Salon is in almost continuous decline, struggling to stay afloat by doing something it really, really, didn't want to do -- charging subscribers for some of its content. Earlier this year, the floundering, media-centric, super-hyped Inside.com was swallowed up by Stephen Brill's Contentville.

One of the persistent myths about the Net has been that because it costs so little to publish online, and the technology makes it so simple, diversity can flourish in cyberspace no matter how big "Big" media gets. As we're learning, that isn't so. The history of media, especially of the large corporatized media of modern times, is that individuals, small groups, and people with some common interests can spout off to their heart's content on their own websites, pages, mailing lists, and in chat rooms, just as they once did in pamphlets and on posters. But independent, distinctive and varied media entities find it just as difficult to compete with conglomerates online as off.

This creates an odd new reality for media online. Individual voices have never been freer, more numerous or outspoken -- witness the rise of instant messaging and inward-looking p2p forums. But they've also never been more marginalized or insignificant.

What happened to the traditional media -- acquisition by conglomerates that offer diverse services which happen to include tepid and homogenized content -- is happening in cyberspace, too.

As Feed and Suck, two of the smarter, more attitudinal publications of the Net's first generation, vanish, they will not be replaced by similar kinds of publications. The difficulties of competing for staff, services and content with Big Media have become dauntingly obvious. AOL Time-Warner is now the largest media company in the world, with revenues of $36.2 billion. Disney is second, at $25.8 billion, followed by Viacom ($20 billion), Vivendi Universal ($17.7 billion), Bertelsmann ($15.7), News Corporation ($14.2 billion) and Sony ($10 billion). Feed and/or Suck could each have gone a decade on one day's petty cash from any of these companies.

Against these behemoths Feed and Suck had a combined editorial staff of between four and eight people, according to the New York Times, and the publications had no marketing budgets with which to reach beyond their small, and generally, elitist, readerships. Nor did they have enough of a sales force to generate additional revenue. They couldn't drawn enough subscribers, or raise even a small amount of money. That's a pretty chilling bit of media truth.

AOL Time Warner has Wall Street investors drooling over its new "all you can eat" Net access strategy. It's now a company that can deliver to its subscribers nearly every form of media content -- magazines, movies, web sites -- via every form of delivery -- including print, Net, wireless, digital, cable and phone. Sure, countless grown-ups and adolescents can still spout off on its mailing lists and public discussion forums. But individualistic sites like Feed, Suck and Salon can't deliver in all those different modes, can't offer large numbers of consumers the same range of services. They can't give you all you can eat, or even that big a meal.

This is a danger that much of the hacker universe has missed from the beginning. The problem isn't that cops will show up at your doors, and close down our sites and shut us up. Why should they bother? The real threat is that companies like AOL Time Warner and media outlets like MSN are already marginalizing, then eliminating lesser competitors by offering vast amounts of content and service to middle-class consumers at relatively low cost. Idiosyncratic Net voices get stilled by economics: they're forced into positions where they can't function independently or competitively. And a lot is going to be lost - like diversity of opinion. AOL Time Warner's idea of fierce civic discussion is a spokesman for the left, and one from the right, screaming at each other.

Salonhas for years provided some of the smartest coverage of technology anywhere. None of the big media companies offer smart and smart-ass commentary the way Suckonce did. What's the last provocative story or discussion you saw in a Disney or AOL Time Warner property or on AOL?

In an only-recently different world, Time's reporters would be keeping an eye on companies like AOL. Now, Time itself is one of the behemoth's smallest and least significant properties. What's the last story you read there?

"This has got to be some type of conservative plot to restrict free-thinking attitudes," Plastic contributor Star Freed wrote in the site's chat area earlier this week. "I'm sure of it." But he's flattering himself. In the Corporate Republic formerly known as the United States, neither liberals nor conservatives need a plot to wipe out a small magazine website. Big Media will do it for them.

Weblogs and blogs can be vibrant and fascinating. So can mailing lists and me-to-me-media media entities. But they don't reach significant numbers of people; the don't have significant influence; they don't offer any real bulkwark against the AOL-ing of the Net. Nor are they a substitute for truly free-wheeling, idiosyncratic media outlets.

These defunct sites aren't blameless. While Feed and Suck offered interesting original and provocative reading, they never quite embraced the power of interactivity. They never really gave readers a role in agenda-setting, and they clung too long to old, top-down media sensibilities. Salon has never quite shaken the feeling that it's at heart a newspaper/print magazine grafted onto the Web.

For all that, these online magazines were and are interesting and important. Disney, AOL and Sony are, at their core, entertainment entities, not journalistic ones. They aren't interested in free speech or outspoken opinion that might offend potential consumers or spook advertisers and stockholders; they function according to the principle of mass-marketing, not hell-raising or intellectual exploration.

The corporatization of media ought to be a hot political issue, but who's going to raise it? AOL? The members of congress whose campaigns are funded by large corporations? The public has little consciousness that its media have been taken over by conglomerates.

The process that has essentially homogenized the popular press and made it irrelevant to anybody under 50 is spreading online, unopposed by regulators or by the Netizens who ought to be up in arms about the creation of a monstrous entity like AOL Time-Warner.

The demise of Suck truly sucks.

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The Demise of the Net Magazine

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    It would seem as if people value the content of media itself very little. What they are looking for is the community around the media. Consuming mainstream media makes you part of the mainstream, it makes you feel like you belong to something large and popular. This is why people are happy to spend $9 to see "Pearl Harbor". It is $9 spent on being part of the community and feeling like you belong. $1 spent on Salon or Suck is a waste of money because it only provides you with ideas and thoughts which are condradictory to the mainstream ideal, and are therefore don't satisfy people's need to belong. Additionally, economies of scale make it impossible for a small magazine (even a web magazine) to compete with a multi-industry conglomerate, even if they both made the same amount from subscription fees.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Web media sites fail because no one wants to pay for content. People go to sites every week, week in and week out, but refuse to pay fees equivalent to a weekly magazine or Sunday paper. They visit some sites every day, day in and day out, and then sniff that the content has little value to them, that it isn't worth thier money. (these are often the same people who in other contexts, will smugly tout the superiority of "New Media", it's ability to get the latest news to them faster than dinosaur print and co-opted mega-media tie-in sites) They visit a site several times a day, every day, and then scoff that the content the site gives them they can easily find on a dozen other places, and they still refuse to pay, not that site, and not any of the other dozen sites they contemptuously claim they can alternatively get thier info from. They will log into thier favorite chatrooms and messageboards, and bemoan the death of the latest website, and snarkily blame bad management, or a bad economy, or stupid people who don't "get it". They will champion thier particular version of web business sucess, wherein if only the company advertised more, or less or differently, or not at all or asked for donations, or micropayments or barter they would have survived. Because of course, if the costs had been, oh..a dollar a year, they would have paid. Or two dollars. Or five cents an article. Or .001362833 cents a click. Or whatever mythical number (hovering conveniently below whatever number the site ever, ever tried to float to users, only to be scorned and spurned) they claim would have been efficient enough and fair enough and worth enough to them to pay. Stuff. Costs. Money. Salaries. Bandwidth. Hardware. It all costs. People. Don't. Pay. Not ever. They will hack, crack, webwash, block, re-route, anonymize, copy, share, forward, ware-ize whine and bitch and moan and sneer and flame, but they will not pay. They will not pay, and they will not look at advertising. And then the sites die. It's just not very mysterious.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Finally, someone else explaining how it all really work. I've been in the publishing business (on the editorial end) for about five years, and everything you say is 100% true. Ad reps are high-pressure tactic assholes who make up bullshit about viewership and readership or whatever else the advertiser wants to hear. An amazingly high rate of return on, say, direct mail flyers is something like 5% and that's considered a massively huge success rate. Another problem is the lack of targetting. Right now, no matter what website you're checking out, you see the same uselss ads for: GM, Online Gambling and that Punch the Monkey thing. God forbid if I was reading a gamestory on /. I'd see a game related ad.... Pathetic, really, considering how easy it would be to do.
  • On or around September 25, 1690, Benjamin Harris' newspaper "Publick Occurences both Foreign and Domestick" appeared on the streets of Boston. It is generally considered to have been the first newspaper in America. However, its first issue was also its only issue. Shortly after its demise, it was clear that this new media model wouldn't work, and everybody just went back to talking to each other in person, and sharing stories in the local saloon and re-circulating old wives tales. The End. At least, that's how some people seem to think history works. For the love of god, people, there will be another Suck! There will be another Salon! There will be many, many, many more webzines! Only they'll have SOME idea of how to generate revenue. Some of those ideas won't work. Those webzines will die. Some ideas will work, those 'zines will thrive and grow. Does anybody else have a problem imagining this scenario??? To all those woe-begotten souls mourning the loss of Suck and Salon: How long before you move to something else? How long before you say something like "Man, I remember Suck, it was cool. Hey, wanna go see if 'X-Men 2' is on Freenet yet?" Was Suck The Best Thing You've Ever Read in Your Life? Was Salon The Only Source of Real Information on the Planet? They were largely smarmy (albeit funny) rants and there is no shortage of those on this planet. Unfortunately, both lacked TRULY ORIGINAL INFORMATION and RELEVANT FACTS: the basis for most NEWSpapers and the main reason (I suggest) anybody really reads anything IN THE LONG RUN. I love the Onion, but it ain't my homepage, and if I forget to read it, I'm not too bothered. On the other hand, I've spent weeks hunting down a new issue of The Baffler because IT MATTERS. If you're defending them strictly on the grounds of comedy, fine, but to suggest that the content on Suck or Salon matched the work of writers like Christopher Hitchens or Lewis Lapham or Tom Frank or a host of other print journalists is incredibly obtuse. Don't get me wrong: I liked those sites, really, I did. I still check Plastic every day. But I'm not about to fool myself into thinking that anybody's REALLY going to notice. Sure, there will be lots of late-night conversations about how new media is cool and those big media corporations suck, but this is hardly a cataclysm for online-anything or media-anything. They're just sites that went down. Let's not make TOO much of a big deal about it. You know how many newspapers went down after the last increase in newsprint? Well, it was lots, and nobody was decrying the business model of cutting down trees and putting ink on them. The real question here is why isn't anybody doing usability tests on what advertising works on the web? I've been checking out sites for the last five years and the greatest leap I've seen has been banner ads--an idea that looks like somebody, once, spent about five minutes on it and everybody just agreed to copy it. So far, GM, some online gambling places and that stupid Punch the Monkey ad are pretty much the only banner ads I see anywhere. God forbid that when I go to a game-related story on Slashdot I'd see an ad for a game. (uh, smirk or something) Being able to target ads is the greatest and most unused feature of auto-generated sites. Meanwhile, advertisers bemoan the lack of clickthroughs--I'd like to see them measure the clickthroughs on every print ad, billboard, TV commercial and flyer I ignore every day. The only reason anybody thinks those work is because they've succumbed to the 'post hoc ergo propter hoc' fallacy. "We spent $1 million on advertising and generated $23 million in revenue. Let's increase our advertising budget and see if we can beat that record!" Companies spend millions on advertising on TV and newspaper because they THINK it works. Because they've been lied to by the slimy, neurotic sales people I've worked with for the last five years. Perception is reality, people. Just one idea. Its not mine, I've seen other references to it, but I think it makes sense considering I now block all banner ads with Naviscope: So, you're reading Slashdot. You've got a few minutes to kill, so you're actually checking out a few stories and a few posts. However, the site is now set up so that every ten (or fifteen or twenty) links you click on (external or internal) you now have to watch a six second flash ad that takes up the entire screen. After those six seconds, it takes you too the link you clicked and you don't see another ad until another ten (or fifteen or twenty) links. However. If you pay Slashdot $9.99/year, you don't have to watch any of the ads. I'm not actually suggesting those numbers and figures as an actual model, so don't start picking the goddamn thing apart because I'M NOT ACTUALLY SUGGESTING THOSE NUMBERS AND FIGURES AS A MODEL (sorry to be a dick, but every time I mention this, all I get is "well maybe it should be every five links," and "I think the flash ad should be ten seconds long." I'm not even suggesting this would work, all I'm suggesting is that there are OTHER WAYS of doing things. The above clearly points to a TV-oriented model as opposed to the print-oriented model. If you're business-oriented, think of your sites' "viewers" instead of its "readers." And, as a final postscript to the longest post I've ever made on the internet: I've been planning a webzine for about five months now and the news about Suck, Feed and Salon disturbed me plenty, but hasn't changed my plans one iota. I may have an advantage because I've been working in the 'Old Media' publishing field for about seven years and I know writers/artists/photographers, etc. who are my friends and willing to work for cheap (er...free) but the idea of spending 5.5 million in six months is STUPID AND INSANE. Yes there's promotion--it's called putting stickers up and visiting people online. Yes there's marketing--it's called making a big noise. Well, surprise, surprise, the old media and new media aren't so different. But, 15,000 paper copies of a 28 page, 11" X 15" newspaper was going to cost me $4,000/week to print. I'm narrowing down a host for the site that that will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500/year to reach the same audience. Of course, it helps that my plan is not to take over the entire media world. If I get 100 readers a day, I'll be ecstatic. If I get 1,000 readers a day, I'll be delirious. If I get 2,000 readers a day, I'll be able to talk to any advertiser with the confidence that my readership now matches that of any other small magazine, and I will have exactly the same information (although, actually, a little more detailed) as the other sales people who walk in from the small print magazine/newspaper. I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that the demise of the Net Magazine has been greatly exaggerated. bigbrownindia@yahoo.ca
  • by Anonymous Coward
    JonKatz wrote:
    >
    > Big Media will homogenize opinion,
    > marginalize you and other smaller competitors
    > and make it impossible for anyone else to
    > compete or grow in the emerging
    > NetAOL/Disney/Sony information economy.

    This will happen only if the Big Media manage to find the Internet profitable for all of their efforts.

    If Big Media can't turn a profit on the Internet, they'll ditch it just as fast as advertising companies ditched banner ads.

    This is the best hope for a Free Internet (TM).

    This is reminiscent of one of the Big Threats (TM) of Free Software. If people can conveniently get better things for free, the old-economy paradigms just can't compete.

    If enough people dedicate themselves to turning out quality content/software/services, then the Free Internet (TM) hope may be realized.

    On a related note, you have probably noticed that the OpenSource/FreeSoftware "revolution" has, for the most part, conicided with an unprecedented "Internet Boom". Due to the resulting boost in the US economy, the sting has gone out of the "economic whip" for many Americans.

    Many doomsayers have predicted that this would have dire consequences. People would slouch around, and do nothing but eat, sleep, and fuck. But, as you can see, there has been a renaissance of creativity, at least for those with the skills to contribute to the culture and potential of the Internet.

    Instead of passive consumerism, or apathetic sloth, people with leisure have proven eager to be creative and productive. This is a refutation of the puritanical work ethic, and may lead to the liberation of human potential.

    If the concentration of power and the monopolization of resources can be resisted successfully, there is hope.

    --Sergey Goldgaber
  • This creates an odd new reality for media online. Individual voices have never been freer, more numerous or outspoken -- witness the rise of instant messaging and inward-looking p2p forums. But they've also never been more marginalized or insignificant.

    If you're reading this, it means we're not marginalized yet.

  • I wish I hadn't just used up my last moderator point.

    I think it does have to do with Media though. Especially the news and commercials. Our 30min news broadcasts have taught us to expect all of our information to come in 30sec bite-sized chunks with a visual and a talking head telling us what to think. Commercials have trained us to think in those 30sec chunks also, just reinforcing the behavior.
  • This is a very good point... normal Big Media is totally based on an assumption, that you have to use economies of scale in order to serve large numbers of people with media information. You can't have _ten_ New York Timeses, there aren't the subscribers. If you want to be the New York Times it costs huge sums in printing equipment, elaborate distribution channels, all based on the fact that you've got to be raking in lots of money just to have the _ability_ to reach a person in New York or Spain or Des Moines. In order to get your message to them you have to have the distribution system from hell, and sustain it with lots of money coming in.

    The internet DOES NOT HAVE such a restriction.

    To some extent there's a limit to how much you can scale- if 10 million people tried to read my 'Airwindows' site tomorrow, I wouldn't be charged extra, but the site could very possibly go down under the load, something I would just have to accept. My capacity to put information out globally does not equal anybody's _obligation_ to have it stand up to such loads. If I had anything especially important for everyone in the world to know about, I could put it out as open content, and have people mirror it and distribute it in a P2P way, and that _does_ scale.

    But the real point here is that by the very nature of their approach to media, the AOLs of the world are put at a disadvantage, unavoidably. They must take a middle line (or whatever is safest and can be _spun_ as a middle line- you'll find them taking a quietly ultraconservative line on corporate power, obviously!). They cannot introduce content that's too 'niche'. Most of all, they must produce revenue. Not for them the capacity to cheaply fund a small web presence out of pocket change indefinitely! Everything they do has to _pay_ them, because their operations cost so damn much.

    At the same time, you have media kingpins like Clear Channel Communications (real scumbags, btw- and it was Salon that had the story [salon.com]...) who take the corporate media suck-fest and escalate the hostilities- who put further revenue pressure on operations like AOL/Time Warner by outflanking them and out-NASTYing them in every way. Once you begin to play the 'driving revenue, appeasing mainstream' game you're at risk of being outcompeted on those grounds by total scumbags. You can't even be a _boring_ media monolith and be safe. Evidence suggests that under laissez-faire modern capitalism you _must_ be scum, or you get beaten up and your lunch money taken away, no matter how big you are. AOL/Time Warner is in no way safe just because they are big, unless deregulation is slowed or stopped.

    And all the while, on the Internet, you still are one click (or one typed-in URL, remember- one Google search? etc) away from any person's niche content- hosted at that person's expense. Sure the sites can't stand a slashdotting, but so what? The information is out there. The thing to really watch out for is not that the Salons of the world get crushed- that's a pretty big niche and there will be others if there's a need to be filled. The thing to watch out for is any mechanism that might block the individual from putting their own information out there on the network- NOT in some wildly public way, that's not a given, but just OUT THERE at all. Nobody is guaranteed attention, but the nature of the Internet would be horribly compromised if anything reduced the ability of people to just buy some cheap hosting (say, under $50 a month- comparable to buying dial-up) and have their material linkable to, one click away from anyone who saw fit to refer to it.

    Because to some extent this is a value-added proposition to the AOLs of the world, but it also potentially dulls the sales message, draws attention away from AOL/Time Warner properties, is content that's not owned by AOL/Time Warner etc., plus you have people who would really prefer individuals' abilities to reach a worldwide audience to be globally restricted on grounds of content. They might be making pr0n! Or advocating gay rights! Or suggesting parody is not against the law in Korea! Or that women shouldn't wear veils in Iran! So even the ability of niche people to connect to the worldwide electronic network is resented by some- and THAT is the area to watch out for. In particular, anything suggesting that Big Media should have control over individual Internet content should raise a red flag. (I see Microsoft's 'Smart Tags' as potentially a hell of a Trojan Horse in this regard, but there could be other issues ahead too.)

  • Bah.

    Feel free to go make (for instance) a radio station, and 'compete' in the 'free market' with Clear Channel. They will murder you. They have jocks _kill_ _animals_ on-air for attention (Clear Channel aired the live killing of a boar and the station posted the bloody pictures on its website). They control live concert promotion of record companies and can and will pull a label's artists off the playlists of _hundreds_ of stations unless they cooperate and freeze you out completely.

    Clear Channel is what happens when an industry is both mature and completely deregulated. Radio went totally laissez-faire during the Clinton administration through pressure from Republicans, and this is what happens. Clear Channel is working on taking over 'independent promotion', too. They are flat-out vicious. There is no 'market'. A lot of good people are now out of radio entirely because of Clear Channel taking over the whole damned industry.

    IT CAN HAPPEN HERE.

    When some future AOL or Microsoft or who-knows-what gets control of enough of the Internet, owning the hardware and the big web sites and the backbones, and decides it is time to announce to everybody else that they will not peer with you if you host content they don't provide, where will you be then? Where will your common market be then? The only thing stopping us from facing that is the fact that the Internet is NOT really mature, and that it is by no means unregulated. The regulation is hovering around waiting to happen- nobody's really clear on what the rules are.

    If the rules turn out to be 'no rules', kiss your ability for grassroots media goodbye. Inevitably someone is going to want to MOW that grass. I ask you, if AOL/Time Warner really did have authority over enough of the internet that they could do what Clear Channel does, and if there was no regulation, what possible reason would they have for allowing ANY independent content on their internet, or allowing any unauthorised networks to peer with the Internet? It comes down to dollars and cents in the end.

    I am sorry, but you are naive and painfully uninformed about analogous situations in radio and you need to grow up and learn how the big bad world really works. The only way a 'free market' _ever_ exists is within a context of rules. No rules, no market. Those rules are demonized as 'regulations', which they are, and having too many of them puts business in a straitjacket, which is unhelpful- but if you get rid of them, you kiss off any chance of a functioning market. Look at radio post-deregulation. This isn't theory. You're talking theory. I'm talking observation and analogy. I defy anyone to claim Clear Channel is a desirable outcome of a market. Christ, it is the UN-market. Clear Channel armtwists everyone they deal with and cannot be challenged or competed with. Try it and watch your revenue from record labels, advertisers, _anything_ be choked off. If you're in radio your whole environment is Clear Channel now and they will tell your advertisers whether they can advertise on your station, will tell record labels whether they can let YOU play the new releases- everything. Thank you, Clinton Administration and Republicans who got their way against the impotent wishes of the Clinton people. So much for an industry.

    It CAN happen here, too.

  • OK- analogous things have happened in radio where 'Big Radio' (Clear Channel) _can_ stop you from starting up a radio station, buying licenses and running a business in that area. It's not hypothetical, they have the capacity to freeze _anybody_ out at this point. The Clinton Administration completely deregulated radio (in terms of station ownership) and, well... we don't have to speculate on that anymore because we _have_ the result. Go read about Clear Channel.

    Now, bearing this in mind, why do you behave as if 'stopping you from buying a domain name and writing good content' is a rhetorical, sarcastic aside? It's no immediate threat, but that is precisely where all this is heading. There is no reason to assume you, or I, or anyone will forever be allowed to buy a domain name for 20 bucks and write good content, even if we put up the money ourselves. This capability is not some sort of natural law, but the consequence of largely unstated rules that are being increasingly overturned, as in the radio deregulation.

    I would respectfully suggest that if they CAN stop you from 'buying a domain name for 20 bucks and writing good content', it is WAY, WAY TOO LATE to worry. How can you seriously suggest such a Pollyannaish attitude? It is very akin to saying, "If you die, _then_ you can see a doctor".

  • Well, I did misjudge you- sorry about that.

    As for how to realistically change the situation? I don't know. I can only do little things. For instance, writing open source dithering software [airwindows.com] to try and get some of the proprietary tools of Big Media into the hands of individuals. I did that. I upgraded the cabling and provided technical advice for a Brattleboro micro-radio station while I lived in Brattleboro.

    What I do is not much. I'm completely out of my depth regarding stuff like Clear Channel. All I _can_ do is what comes to hand- for instance, I have hopes that my work will lead to pro audio software for Linux. I'm not good enough of a programmer to write C programs for Linux, so the program I wrote is in REALbasic for MacOS. I GPLed it anyway, because what if someone can make use of the algorithms and translate them? It may end up benefitting nobody but me, but I _did_ have the option of going wholly proprietary with it- high-end dithers and wordlength reducers can fetch thousands of dollars just to use them, in proprietary-land- and I couldn't accept that.

    I've put effort into understanding the music side of modern media as well- not 12 hours ago, I uploaded my Evergreens [airwindows.com] analysis, which starts with inspection of the entire history of platinum albums and goes on from there to extrapolate what recent trends mean for the future of this form of media. I think that counts as my thoughts on the matter. I'm of the opinion that 'Big Media' in the sense of the RIAA is heading for a nasty fall but I _don't_ know what will replace it, I only know that it will involve levels of differentiation vastly in excess of what is possible with the traditional radio/retail sales channel, which has been getting absurdly restricted in terms of total inventory. I don't know the form this will take, or whether the record labels will have a heavy stake in it. I do know that if the labels try to sell on the Internet they way they are selling through retail, they are fooling themselves and guaranteed to fail expensively.

    Again, I'm sorry for misjudging you- reading Slashdot has caused me to be awfully sensitive to freemarket chauvinism, maybe too sensitive. Just because I see some attitudes as horribly damaging doesn't mean I need to see them in every little remark, and I apologize. I vented unjustifiably at you- my beef is with the numerous people out there who swear up and down that ideology-driven, totally heedless deregulation of everything is the wonder drug to make everything be marvellous and great, and obviously I think this is cult-like insanity with lots of evidence to harshly disprove these promised benefits, but THOSE PEOPLE are the ones running things now. Hence my occasional venom- and I'm sorry to have nailed you with it and disrespected you.

  • Well at least Katz's prediction that Suck would either have to change or die was correct.
  • This is probably the first time that I don't agree with Mr. Katz mainly for his view of who and what Feed, Suck, and Salon were. First of all, they were already homogenized versions of the pamphlet. They tried to create the same Magazine business model on the net. Now I've said this time and time again. The net is/should not be about making money (unless you sell an actual product - which Amazon still can't make a dime doing.)

    The net, as the Supreme Court has stated, is still free. You can say what you want when you want. But think about Suck.com. It lasted a year before it's creators sold out. Why? Well, if I was doing something I loved and not making money at it just enjoying the true freedom of the press that the net allows then when someone comes to me and gives me a bag of money for the site - I'll take the money and run because there is no real way the site will generate actual revenue in the long-term. When it was sold it should've have been renamed Suckers.com.

    I read all three websites for about two months before leaving. Why? The sites were bland didn't necessarily give any real underground info into tech, or politics, or whatever. They were marginalized fairly quickly because other media were looking at them and marveling over how many people read them. They tried to copy it but really couldn't because Mass Media has to appeal to the Masses and running down the middle isn't what the net is about - that's what newspapers, magazines, and TV News is all about.

    The Net is about allowing a single individual a voice to speak his/her/its mind. I predicted that most of the sites would die by 2005. Guess I was wrong - it happened way earlier. Now does that mean Big Media will take over the net. Not really because the net caters to niches and niche people won't necessarily pay for there info, or fun. And niche people can range in the thousands but a business needs a million to thrive. Also, unlike TV, ads can be and usually are ignored. Thats why ad revenue has dropped. How do you get people to click on a banner? I've always said give them money and they will come. But what company is a fool enough to give anyone who clicks their banner a buck to just that. Doesn't make sense.

    And as long as the model of the net stays many to many it will stay free or Big Media. Big Media can still take part but it shouldn't be about them making money it should be about them offering themselves up for free so that maybe we'll find that product or service that we will pay for.

    But it won't be a niche product or service but that's what has always been free.
  • What the ever-loving hell does the software they use on the server have to do with the failure of their business model in this case? The proof may be in the pudding, but this is a whole different flavor here. Salon is not going to die because their server gets attacked, or because their data is stored in an unreliable fashion. It's going to die eventually because of a lack of revenue or uninteresting content. The best OS or server setup in the world isn't going to save you if you're not making any money on what you're serving.
  • Corporations do not live and die by the consumer, they live and die by profit. I have some libertarian friends I love and respect, but the idea that corporations can do bad things that can only be addressed through regulation rather than market forces is just as alien to them as the idea that market forces can bring benefit to the working class is to a diehard Marxist.

    This whole "all regulation is communist" bullshit is getting real old. It's the same tired New Right rhetoric that should have been buried a long time ago. Time and again corporations have proven that given a choice between (a) fixing flaws, even lethal ones, in their products they know about and (b) doing their best to cover up the flaw and continue business as usual, they will only choose (a) if it is cheaper than (b).

    We'd all like to believe that companies succeed by delivering the best product at the best price, but companies succeed by being profitable--which simply means minimizing expenses and maximizing revenue. Pleasing the consumer is one way to do that. So is reducing your competition, setting up barriers of entry to new competitors, reducing your workforce, giving lower wages and fewer benefits, and making the absolutely cheapest product you can get away with and still be accepted. In a completely unregulated market, this creates a downward spiral--your competition will maximize profit by sinking to your level.

    And anyone who has actually worked in media will tell you that the increasing media concentration is leading to fewer and fewer reporters working under more and more restrictions, turning in more and more tepid, "safe" stories--investigative journalism is a dying art.

    Maybe you think a society where the only consumer protections amount to "stop buying Ford Pintos if you hear people are dying in them" is just great. I don't. If the vast majority of media outlets are controlled by three or four corporations who all get major advertising revenue from Ford--and will thus increase their profit by not reporting on exploding Pintos--that society isn't improved in my book, either. (Incidentally, the real Ford Pinto story was broken by Mother Jones, one of those crazy non-corporate left wing magazines.) And your assertion that the only alternative to unchecked corporate power is state ownership is bullshit of the highest order.

  • Yep... and if they don't care to shut us up, what's the problem? I can find whatever I want on the web no matter how big the conglomerates get. Further, I can publish anything I want and people who know how to look can find it.

    Agreed. The open and free nature of the web makes it possible for anyone to have a voice. THat part isn't going away (although poorer people may get squelched a bit by the proliferation of popup ads that need to be closed before their content can be read).

    But if you're gonna play the business game, you gotta make money. I guess that bothers an 'online journalist' like Katz more than it bothers me. ;)

    I'm not sure I agree here - there's a kind of "critical mass" when it comes to a web news site.

    You start off on a free host provided with your ISP account - or something like Geocities - and you start to get a readership.

    Eventually, the bandwidth usage of your readership becomes high enough that the free hosting just doesn't work (either your site gets too slow, or your hosting service asks you to leave, because the bandwidth your readership uses is costing them too much)

    So, yo leave, get a domain, and pay for hosting. If you're lucky, you can host a server yourself - but most ISPs don't allow you to have a static IP, much less host a domain. So chances are you pay for hosting.

    Once you are footing the bill for hosting, chances are, you've got metered bandwidth. Go above your ammount, and you start getting charged extra.

    For a site that acquires a vast readership - that load can be a lot to bear, and many sites are starting to fold under the burden of bandwidth bills.

    It's like you get punished for having a popular site - unless you can fund it.

    Some sites turned to banner ads and popups - annoying, but they were supposed to pay the bills. Unfortunately, many of the ad companies didn't pay, or paid far less than they promised. Only now are sites seeing that they can't rely on banners alone.

    Some sites turn to donations to pay their bills - while some can become quite successful this way - eventually, that money will dry up too.

    Some sites get bought by a larger company, who then assumes the bandwidth burden, and ofen retains the site's staff - sometimes giving them a salary for their efforts. Unfortunately, the main reason companies buy things is to make money. If they can't, or don't make money off of the site, they may sell it again, lay off the staff, or let the site die. They'll throw as many banners and popups as they can get away with - sacrifice content for the sake of ads - basically do anything theycan to try to at least break even on the site. This leads good sites down a poor path, and generally isn't a very good option these days.

    Some sites just fold. They get reborn, regather their readership, and suffer the same fate.

    It's sad that some of the web's greatest independant media sources get squished because of bandwidth bills - while the crappy ones, or the ones that are bread-and-butter to big corporations with money to burn, live on.

  • Wouldn't that be ironic. To preserve free thinking people will have to communicate using a mysterious black art....the printed page.

    See this is the great fallacy of the net - that it would simply change the world. It didn't it won't and it never can. For if it was possible then the typewriter would have been the second or third greatest invention in the history of civilisation. Easy creation of content and easier access guarantees nothing if what you say falls on deaf ears or people are too busy getting their poles greased to pay attention.

    Take a look at a mass media site like ABC News. The average article takes less than a minute to fully read at a 6th grade level. The front page is a testament to ADHD, the visual equivalent to Tourette's Syndrome. And be clear the most significant way to write pithy yet short focused articles is in response to something. If you didn't know anything about culture or politics then you would never get anything out of the one page articles that are the the genius of Lewis Lapham. Which is context you really don't need when you read the latest news cum stain on USAToday that correlates astrology with the weather.

    So in the end it will be harcopy that survives and the ephemera of the web will be used to bolster television but not exist independently of it.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @08:06AM (#151368) Homepage Journal
    The site you refer to prides itself on "hardhitting" "nobullshit" Bill O'Reilly in- your-face I-dare-you-to-differ-with-me news all served up on a platter for people who can't distinguish or don't want to, editorial from news. Apart from the political slant which you nailed squarely. Else The Nation would be the hottest website in the world. Which its not because like it or not, sites like The Nation require the reader to think whereas The Free Republic merely requires the reader to have an opinion and type.

    BTW two of the biggest columnists @ Salon are David Horowitz and Camille Paglia neither of which are very far to the left of Ghengis Khan.
  • Hey, and people thought I was paranoid!!
    I don't believe for a moment that the failure of online magazines is the fault of the big monopolies and existing media providers.
    For a start, the existing media providers all set up with the model that to produce an expensive distribution (I.e. magazines, tv shows, movies etc) they had to sort out a means whereby they could make enough money from it to enable them to make the next one, and pay the staff for their time.
    A lot of online magazines simply didn't do this, and relied on revenue streams of banner ads, if that, to pay their bandwidth and staff bills.
    With the proliferation of banner ads (they're far cheaper than magazine ads), eventually, their revenue won't keep up with costs.. Thus the company goes out of business.
    This problem has been afflicting many suberb publications since time immemorial in many different media...
    I happen to work for an online publication (a very sizable sports information site), in which the management, to gain extra revenue, contract out the skills of the staff to implement projects for other companies who don't have the necessary skills/resources to achieve this.
    Lo and behold, the company is still going strong, and with a decent revenue stream, capitalising on the skills it has.
    Why blame the big guys, just because the little guys didn't quite get it right?
    It's sad, but it happens.
    It's a money driven world in the net these days, and to stay in the game, you need to pay your distributors (ISPs instead of printers) and staff, just like all the other businesses in there..
    Perhaps many of us techs suffer from the arrogance that just because we operate in an advanced and new media, we're exempt from all the practices that have preceeded for hundreds of years..

    Malk
  • by lar3ry (10905) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @09:00AM (#151373)
    What was once a joke on Saturday Night Live (*Coke is it*) may actually work in the (*Chevy Trucks. Like a Rock.*) cyberspace world (*Spice Girls Reunion Tour -- Coming Soon!*).

    Where's Mr. Subliminal (*Nike. Just do it.*) when we need him? He was one of the (*Wasssup!! Bud Lite*) least effective on television (*Read Slashdot!*), but his ideas (*Watch Shrek!*) may appeal in cyberspace where (*Disney's Atlantis -- Opening Tomorrow!*) banner ads have been met with both (*Tojans mean never having to say 'I'm Sorry!'*) open hostility and ridicule.

    Somehow, we must (*Salon.com -- only $30/year*) find a new way to finance (*Vote Republican in 2002, or we will send Willie Horton to your door!*) the sites that we really love to surf (*Summer sale at Macy's: up to 20% off!*) or we will find many more of these well-written, but (*Carl Hiassen's new book: Sick Puppy! Now in paperback!*) underfunded sites go down just like (*Isuzu welcomes back Joe Isuzu! Buy a truck from us!*) Salon, Slate, Suck, and (*New York Times. We have the fnords!*) Feed.
    --
  • there is a large audience of people who do not want their news sanitized for them

    No, I don't think the libertarian audience really is that big.

    Oh, you mean conservatives? Those bastions of "fact" that in some cases rely on Rush Limbaugh for "news", when he's repeatedly been caught in flagrant opposition to the facts (and waves such things away since he's only entertainment after all)?

    Sorry, but everyone, right left and center, tends to gravitate towards views of the news that reinforce their own world view, and so towards anything that is "sanitized" in the direction that they want to hear. It's human nature. To claim that liberals are all for censored news, but the freedom loving (ha!) conservatives want everything to be told is to ignore all kinds of conservative whitewash.

    people who want the honest truth about the socialist and homosexual communities

    You want the honest truth about "the homosexual community"? Here it is: gay people want to be allowed to express themselves and love whoever it is they love without fearing that their jobs, their homes, and their lives may be taken from them by people who are afraid of them because they are different. Just like the italian community, the puerto rican community, the asian community, and every damn other community in this country.

    Unfortunately, some people who have to have a "them" to be against have to invent moronic evil agendas that bear only fleeting resemblance to reality so they can feel justified in having no sympathy when those they fear "get what they deserve." "But we weren't really advocating violence against them." As Dogbert says: "Bah!"

    With this statement you've demonstrated exactly how "objective" the news you consume is--no more than that on Salon etc., just better targeted at the prejudices of the majority.

  • What a fscking troll.

    With conservatives running the show in Washington, the country is beginning to gravitate back towards its moral roots.

    Those puritan roots are what you're talking about? Never mind the convicts and other criminals that also helped establish the colonies...

    And of course, this trend toward our puritan roots is why rude rap songs about sex, teenaged slut pop and online pr0n are doing so well....>coff<.

    The fact is, Suck & Feed had little to nothing with being "mouthpieces for the liberal left", and inasmuch as Salon & Slate do, their failures have nothing to do their ideology and everything to do with the fact that banner ads just don't support a website unless they're porn ads.

    How about another web magazine that somewhat disproves Jon Katz's poorly thought out premise? Nerve! They seem to be doing well, they're definitely not conservative, and their main selling point seems to be that they are just respectable enough to not be dismissed as pr0n while still appealing enough to that same part of people to be successful.

  • I think there is a lot of truth in your post, with the major point being objection to the content.

    While salon.com has some articles of interest, they usually just lean "left" most of the time (whatever that means), and offer little intelligent articles explaining the "other side".

    As a non-extremist, I'd like to see different views, not propaganda. To me salon.com is just as absurd as it's opposite twin newsmax.com, why a person would trust "investigative" journalism from sites with political agendas will always escape me.
  • I've never read Slate, only read an article or two from Suck that were linked on Slashdot, but regularly read Salon--not for the politics, but for the tech coverage first, then books and movies. That's more or less it. I actually rather like Salon's in-depth technical articles, though most of the rest of it I could do without.

    I think other people in this discussion have hit the nail on the head when they said it's not about content or dissenting opinions, it's about ad revenue dwindling and vanishing. Look at Keenspot [keenspot.com] and Sluggy Freelance [sluggy.com], both of which have instituted "if you pay us, you'll be supporting our site(s) and you won't have to see banner ads" programs. Look at Themestream [themestream.com], which went belly-up, and TheVines [thevines.com], which looks like it's also headed for extinction. Look at all the free ISPs that have either vanished or consolidated and cut way back on the services they offer. Banner ads just don't work.

    There definitely does need to be a new model for websites to earn revenue. The problem is, nobody's really sure just what it is yet. Tipping might work, but only if the tipper is willing to subscribe to the payment service used by the tippee. Micropayments sound good, but there are a whole bunch of hurdles in the way, and there's no more venture capital [wired.com] to develop such a system.

    Whatever happens, it seems like ad banners are rapidly becoming so ineffective now that having them at all is tantamount to a superstitious gesture, like crossing your fingers or putting a horseshoe up over the door--it makes you feel better, but doesn't actually do anything.
    --

  • which in itself is debatable when one considers the "market economies" of India and Africa starved out their populations during that era You'd have to be ignorant or on crack to think that India and the various countries in Africa (unlike you, I don't think Africa is a country)had anything resembling a first-world market economy. India was proudly socialist. The non-socialist African countries were by and large kleptocracies, where the head poobah (often installed by the CIA; there is American culpability here) and his cronies would steal everything that wasn't nailed down.

    Calling these countries "market economies" is like calling Microsoft "innovative;" it takes an awful perversion of the meaning of the word to get to that conclusion.

    -jon

  • Where in the hell did you pull this from? Rush?

    Look around you, dude. Net sites are failing left and right and it has nothing to do with people "loosing interest in liberalism". It has everything to do with not making money! Ever been to Fucked Company [fuckedcompany.com]? Read over just 10 of the FCs - they are mostly stupid ideas in the first place, such as the ever popular breakfastcereal.com - the breakfast cereal portal! Imagine, if you will, Yahoo! with nothing but breakfast cereal. Like I am going to make THAT my home page. And the guy who started that winner of an idea got VC for it.

    This has nothing, zero, zilch, to do with us having an idiot president getting his marching orders from the religious right and big business. These sites are failing for a reason: they are poorly run from the outset, have burned through all their VC by buying Aeron chairs for everyone and their dog, and then are left wondering why nobody clicks on the banner ads.

  • by double_h (21284) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @08:27AM (#151383) Homepage

    In a way, I'm not really all that sad about the demise of Suck. I was a regular reader of the site from its inception, and one of the key points of the Suck philosophy back then was this: know when to cash in. Nothing on the internet lasts forever, so make the best of it when you can. The fact that they were saying this in 1995-1996 is proof of their insight and wisdom. The guys who started Suck made quite a name for themselves, and I'm sure they'll have little problem keeping gainfully employed for the rest of their careers. More power to them.

    On the other hand, I do want to see high quality independent journalism and commentary survive on the net - I think that independent/grassroots journalism [indymedia.org] is one of the greatest things to come out of the internet, and I want to see it survive and propogate. But I don't have any answers as to how to pay for all the bandwidth that a popular site involves -- with any luck, bandwidth will become less of an issue in time, and this will make it easier for people to self-publish in any kind of significant way.

  • [I think that the reason so much troubles are plaguing independent sites is that their revenue model, dependent on ad revenue, is backed by inefficient and ineffective ad display systems... The existance of this "Ad-pache" would allow smaller sites to have an easier time selling ads and attracting revenue. ..With such a system in place and showing tangible results, the playing field might be leveled for the small guy.]

    Lev, you are *so close* to the right answer. I run a little-city entertainment guide. One of the most popular pages on our site is a listing of local bands. I am writing some PHP code that: a) will expand each listing into a micro-site, where bands could create added value with pay-to-play pictures, lyrics, etc. (thus enhancing *my* revenue stream) nestled within my site; b) enable each band to sell MP3s through their site; c) have advertisements on the entertainment guide from the bands (more revenue for me), and d) have those MP3s randomly chosen to go streaming out over an automated internet radio station, which will also display that band's ad (linked of course back to their micro-site) while the song is playing. See? It's not just *big* business that has to advertise, it's *everybody* who has something to sell. It's the synergistic code that ties it all together that triggers the network effect!

  • If people find content worth it - they'll pay.

    And if they can't find it? If say, some big website/isp/cable company decides that no "competitor" can advertise on any of their channels (or mags, or sites, etc)? And then you get two other companies to decide the same thing, and all of a sudden there's no real way to tell the whole world about the best site on the Net (i.e. the one you want to advertise). This is the media spectrum we face today. Getting outside of the walled garden is a bitch, and with incredibly restrictive copyright laws, it'll stay that way and make sure all the old, classic content stays wrapped up tighter than a properly administered *BSD server.
    --
  • You are comparing apples and oranges. A click through requires far less effort and interest than a visit to a car dealer or or even calling someone. Which translates into far lower follow through rates. Also, with bingo cards, phone calls..., the company gets address information that they can use to follow up. With click-throughs, you don't. Unless they fill out some kind of information request form. And furthermore, click-through rates have come WAY down over the last couple of years and simply don't justify the prices most of the websites asked for. If a $10,000 ad in a major magazine gets you exposure to 100,000-300,000 people and you get a 1% response rate, you are infinitly better off than if you pay $5,000 for 10 CPM at some obscure web site and see no firm opportunities spring up.
  • by schmack (32384) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:32AM (#151389)
    One of the persistent myths about the Net has been that because it costs so little to publish online, and the technology makes it so simple, diversity can flourish in cyberspace no matter how big "Big" media gets. As we're learning, that isn't so.

    How is this a myth? This statement is absolutely true. It's never been cheaper to set up a website online. Many, many hosting companies offer web-serving, email, dns delegation, gigabytes in monthly traffic, and access to back-end technologies such PHP and ASP for under $20 a month. This kind of affordability just doesn't exist in any other form of media.

    Suck was set up in the spare time of a couple of Hotwired employees - it quickly become an icon of intelligent/satirical commentary on the web. It was a success. Once they tried to to operate the site as a business it was then matter of waiting for the money to run out - but I for one certainly wouldn't be pointing fingers at big media in looking for the reason for their downfall.

    Somewhere along the line large numbers of people stopped seeing the web as a cheap and effective place to publish original commentary or to host free-flowing discussion groups. Instead, they began eyeballing the bank balances of the ever-increasing numbers of geek-millionaires and looking to get a little of that action for themselves.

    Katz, diversity can and does flourish in 'cyberspace', it just doesn't necessarily turn a profit doing so. That's all you seem to be saying.

    --
  • Yes, there are many other factors. Please go read "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", and think about the parallels.

    It seems to be universal, when a country rises to power, it's citizens become soft. They don't want to work or think, and you end up with "Bread and Circuses". You soon end up with the downfall of that country, and another becomes the world leader.

    If the citizens of the old power are lucky, the fall is smooth, and they get to sit back in their country's old age, and enjoy life at a slower pace. If they are unlucky, the new power isn't so nice, and a lot of people die

  • Nothing new here. It is a new way of funneling the lemmmings, errr, public down another chute to the trough. The public has been so ingrained on 'brand names' that something not a brand name is not where they will go. The majority of the public is not cynical enough with the big media corporations to want to go elsewhere.

    I am guilty of it too. I hit CNN a couple of times a day, in spite of other sources being available.

    I should mention that I am refering to the situation from a strictly US attitude. I do not know how the situation is in other parts of the globe.

  • Most of the people on /. seem to want to see Linux succeed in the business world. If they go, this will be a blow to the "Linux is good for your bottom line" reasoning that we try to push so heavily. They run Apache/mod_perl ferchrissakes! They're the good guys. If they go under I can't help but believe that this will be a blow to Linux advocates, because, after all, the proof is in the pudding.

    Check this [netcraft.com] for more.

    - Rev.
  • (at least in Salon's case) is that they refuse to even consider alternate ways of getting paid. Needless to say, I'm not going to be nearly as sympathetic as Mr. Katz if/when they die but they don't even bother to ask for tips...

    Synopsis of e-mail conversation (not direct quotes) is below...

    Salon: "We're losing money on this banner-ad thingy, so now we want $30!"

    Me: "Maybe Salon shouldn't lock people into a $30 relationship for wanting to read ONE article, when reading one article can easily be paid-for with e-gold [e-gold.com]."

    Salon: "Sorry, we don't want to think about that right now."

    (Who knows? Maybe when Salon runs ALL THE WAY out of money they'll try something new?)
    JMR

    Speaking once-again only for myself -- nobody else around here is quite this annoying! :)

  • I'm not sure that any systems (even e-gold & PayPal put together) that are widely-deployed enough yet for individual-article sales to be an instant success story, but my point was that if smaller (any!) payments are available, and if you're admittedly running out of money, you should use (or at least TRY!) them along with full subscriptions. Trying it, especially around here where I give a bit away for free, is both easy and free -- just like it would have been for Salon.

    I probably should have also included my (constant, and not original with me) idea of tipjars next to free content. I'd have clicked a gram for a number of the Suck articles that have made me laugh over the years. I actually prefer this voluntary model to for-pay content, personally, but I don't know how much success either has gotten. So far, getting the first "major" musician to adopt voluntary tipjars as a way to get something instead of nothing out of online music trading has been a bear for me, but I don't give up easily.

    The owner of http://www.two-cents-worth.com/ [two-cents-worth.com] might be able to tell us how donations are working, if he wants, so I'll ask him. After every (default two-centigram) click of e-gold through his site, he asks for a (default one gram) donation, but he doesn't provide much content, because he relies on his link being in signature files of others' email, and the donation to him is not required to use his service.
    JMR
  • by MadAhab (40080) <slasher@@@ahab...com> on Thursday June 14, 2001 @08:51AM (#151397) Homepage Journal
    What kind of community, exactly, are you supposed to feel part of watching Pearl Harbor? Dead sailors? Sentimental idiots wishing they were in a world war so they could be cool, too?

    The web is a better way of publishing zines. Zines and small publications are the way tastes outside the mainstream are solidified and built. Trends outside the mainstream are what drive the mainstream, which then pukes out tons of shoddy, pale imitations. Every now and then someone surfs the wave up and produces something truly amazing on the mainstream level.

    What sucks is that the infrastructure and costs for subscription stuff is still expensive, difficult, and/or time-consuming, and subcription content is a hard sell until people understand how to sell it as "insider" community. You can't do that with 100 employees on staff, and you won't, ever.

    There are plenty of us who realize that the Net is the future of underground COMMUNITY, and appreciate that for what it is. If a few of us make careers out of it, great. I don't see the immediate need for something on the order of major movie studios to come out of the way the 'net is changing our consumption and production of culture.

    Many to many is SUPPOSED to create fewer blockbusters that everyone sees and more small content. All the pissing and moaning about content on the web is silly when you realize that it basically amounts to the breathless expectation that content will be produced "peer to peer" and then disappointment when that turns out to be true.

    Fine with me, though I'm still certain that the bell hasn't even rung to START round 1 yet, so there's a lot of time to see what happens and what new empires arise. Suckdot was hilarious.

    Boss of nothin. Big deal.
    Son, go get daddy's hard plastic eyes.

  • Yep... and if they don't care to shut us up, what's the problem? I can find whatever I want on the web no matter how big the conglomerates get. Further, I can publish anything I want and people who know how to look can find it.

    But if you're gonna play the business game, you gotta make money. I guess that bothers an 'online journalist' like Katz more than it bothers me. ;)
  • Last I heard a lot of "big media" companies from CNN to the NY Times was laying off online staff and rethinking their commitments to the medium. Doesn't get much bigger than Time-Warner.

    Instead of focusing on substantive problems like an acceptable model for compensation for providing content (which EVERYONE from huge conglomerate to one-man shops seem to be struggling with), we get another lament on a contrived theme.
  • I perhaps am a minority of one, but I thought the 'attitudinal' coverage from Suck (in particular) was flawed, often incorrect, and frequently on the edge of liable. Let's look at Feed's article on IBM: The Final Solutions Company [feedmag.com] for example. Here are some of the things that were wrong with that article (I am, BTW, not a lover of IBM, I just like fair-play):

    The author of the book was highly biased, having been fired by IBM.

    The title of the article was inflamitory, to put it nicely.

    The whole spin towards "war is good for profits".

    A lack of perspective about all of WW II.

    Revisionism.

    And finally, and quietly, the lawsuit that was filed against IBM (a PR stunt if there ever was one) was withdrawn.

    Does 'journalism' that is that badly screwed up need to continue to see the light of day?

    It's too bad Katz didn't just say, "most magazines fail and these two fit that mold". Instead there must be grand, over-arching understanding of 'phases of the net'.

    NOT

    Suck sucked. Get over it.

    -- Multics.

    P.S. Salon sucks too. What insanity is it to post things like "the us spies too much". Flawed analysis will get you closed faster than anything but missing advertisement dollars.

  • but what is the difference between a highly specific website tailored to the "elite" and a print magazine which does the same? Print media has the advantage of charging per-issue AND has advertising revenue. And yet, magazines still fold.

    The reason is simple. Magazines and Netzines serve a purpose and a constituency. If their market for whatever reason decides not to support it, then obviously it will have to close up shop. I can't expect a publication tailored to a small market to survive for too long with other publications with a larger one.
  • I think that the reason so much troubles are plaguing independent sites is that their revenue model, dependent on ad revenue, is backed by inefficient and ineffective ad display systems.

    I believe this topic was previously discussed /., but no real solution arrived at.

    I personally think that an ad-serving system should be developed in the open source community that would facilitate easy ad sales/link exchanges, that would be full featured enough to become somwhat of an industry standard. The Apache of ad-serving so to speak.

    The existance of this "Ad-pache" would allow smaller sites to have an easier time selling ads and attracting revenue. And of course it would have to provide all the bells and whistles like time/geo targeting, etc, and possibly some of the other features not offered by anyone else (like ad feedback, etc)

    With such a system in place and showing tangible results, the playing field might be leveled for the small guy.

  • by KingJawa (65904) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @08:54AM (#151410) Homepage
    Big Media

    Big Tobacco

    Big Oil

    Big deal.

    This column would get moderated down as a toothless, ad hominem attack -- it claims to tarnish an entity (in this case, by making the ridiculous assertion that outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times conspire to Keep the Man Down) simply because they exist in the mainstream, and, therefore, are recognizable.

    Mister Katz takes this argument to the epitome of lunacy, arguing that media is undergoing "corporatization" (defined as organizations associating freely, but not to Mr. Katz's taste) and that you, me, and my neighbor should care -- it "ought to be a hot political issue." In fact, one could infer that the reason why Mr. Katz's column appears not in The Washington Post but rather an online rag has much to do with a "Big Media" conspiracy to keep his opinion out of the public view.

    And he does this by calling newspapers of both good and poor quality one name -- "Big Media." Say it with me now: "Big Media" controls your thoughts. "Big Media" will take over the world. "Big Media" must be stopped.

    This makes a column? Sadly, yes. Quoth Katz:
    The process that has essentially homogenized the popular press and made it irrelevant to anybody under 50 is spreading online, unopposed by regulators or by the Netizens who ought to be up in arms about the creation of a monstrous entity like AOL Time-Warner.

    The ridiculousness of such a passage is astonishing. "Essentially homogenized?" Check out http://www.fair.org/ [fair.org] or the Media Research Center [mrc.org], both of whom strive to point out media bias, FAIR being liberal, the MRC being conservative. And they are not creatures of the web -- both were founded in the mid-1980s! Oh, and Brill's Content often runs two news articles side by side that, apparently, cover the same story, but come out w/the opposite headlines. Homogonized?

    The idea that any newspaper or news station is "irrelevent to anybody under 50" is not only wrong, it shines of ignorance. C-SPAN callers come from all walks of life. CNN, FoxNews, etc. get decent if not fantastic demographics from the 25-54 age group. OpinionJournal.com, which echoes WSJ editorials, wouldn't work at all if it only appealed to AARP members. And if a doughnut was valued more than a copy of the New York Times, the commuter rail to Grand Central would be littered with crumbs, not the "House & Home" section.

    But no! The notion that people may not care if media is "Big" or "monstrous" or, erroneously, "homogonized" is impossible! Why? Because, asserts Mr. Katz, things that are "Big" or "monstrous" or having to do with corporations or conglomerates or other things are ipso facto evil! Perish the thought that people may not care because they weren't reading Suck or Salon or Inside.com anyway -- out of personal preference -- and instead wished to continue reading the Chicago Tribune -- but did so via an AOL dialup.

    When reality does not support your political motives, it works to call your enemies names. If anything is homogonized about media, that's what it is -- and Mr. Katz has shown that he is willing to add his name to that milk carton.
  • Try going to FreeRepublic, setting up a new account, and then voicing an opinion or two - not lies, or rants, or insults, or flamebait, just an opinion, and you can phrase it as diplomatically as you like - that lies on the political spectrum anywhere to the left of Rush Limbaugh. They'll revoke your account within the day.

    Truly contemptible. Bunch of losers. And that also explains why that damn site is so boring.

    Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

  • Okay, let's take a couple of your points about the ignorant masses:

    Why is the price of oil so high?

    The real secret is: it's not. Relative to the rest of the world, spending 2 bucks on a gallon of gas is still a pretty good deal. You're right, the oil interests do run our country, but the real evidence for this is the fact that - you ready for this? - the price of gas is so low. Exxon et al. realize that, as long as they can keep gas prices at a reasonable level, people won't put any heart into looking for alternative fuels, and the oil companies will continue to dominate the market.

    Personally, I think the only explanation for this is sloth. The oil companies could just as easily put some effort into R&D and be the first ones to come out with awesome fuel cells, but they'd rather just keep selling oil 'cuz it's easier. If only the government would subsidize oil-company research instead of the price of raw oil, the country would be a much cleaner place.

    Why are term limits riduculous and un-democratic?

    For the record, what's so undemocratic about letting people elect whoever they want? It's true that the incumbent candidate has more name recognition and the advantage of not having TOTALLY messed up the county/state/country in his last term, but a reasonably informed populace would still base its decision on the candidate's policies for the future. So, maybe a better question is, "why do we even need term limits at all?" That seems to be a better indicator of the lack of clue among people.

    Why do Iranians and Guatamalans have contempt for the US?

    Now that's a good point.

    ---

  • by WombatControl (74685) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:56AM (#151414)

    You've got the first part absolutely right on the head. An active and informed citizenry is crucial to a free state. You are also correct in pointing out that Americans are rarely active and informed. Yes, this is a problem.

    But blaming the "Corporate Republic" is an intellectual cop-out. First of all, the entire concept is a load of bullshit. You better damn well believe that if the government had any real desire to shut down Microsoft or AOL, they could. Corporations aren't more powerful than government, they only sometimes seem that way. If America were really owned lock stock and barrel by corporations then we wouldn't be seeing the load of regulatory garbage that gets passed through Congress each year.

    The idea that corporations are able to shirk all responsibility is also BS. Corporations live and breathe by the market, and the market is driven by the consumer. The reasons we're seeing all this vertical integration is sure as hell not out of some kind of diabolic plan to squelch the voices of independent content producers, but because it's getting harder and harder to attract the kind of audiences that media outlets are used to. Hence AOL buying everything from ICQ to Netscape - they need to get subscribers to keep their bottom line. If you've got several million eyeballs, you can keep afloat of ads... and even then it's a crapshoot. "Big Media" isn't more powerful than ever... it's trying desperately to keep from hemorraging cash by spreading itself around. In the end, that may only make the situation worse.

    Unless corporations understand market demands, they're doomed to end up pretty well fucked [fuckedcompany.com]. Corporations have an *extreme* amount of accountability, to their shareholders, to the market, and more important to the consumers. AOL is sucessful because it caters to a large group of people and does it well. Ditto Microsoft, or almost any other major corporation.

    This whole "corporate republic" bullshit is getting real old. It's the same anti-capitalist rhetoric that should have been buried a long time ago. The alternative proposed by this New Left is a socialist system where the *government* runs everything - and all you need to do is go take a little trip to a former or current Communist country to see where that would lead us. (And don't talk about Sweden like it was paradise either - they have a yearly national dept equal to 133% of their GNP. That's a burn rate that would make some dot coms flinch!)


  • Suck is still posting their summer "reruns" and they haven't announced anything about shutting down permanently so there is still hope. But it is interesting to note that the banner ads that they used to run in a frame at the bottom of the page have been replaced by a plug for their summer reruns. It's hard to see how they will start up again with no advertisers.
  • Agreed. We've become experts of an issue if we've heard a series of different 20 second news briefs in a row. I guess if I hear somebody say something enough on television, it must be true because that's the spoken history of the issue.

    Which brings me to a strange point. We're becoming more and more a spoken cultural with an oral history instead of a written history. We believe what we read less and less, and instead rely on what our friends have told us. Justification of what we hear occurs when we ask a few different people what they've heard or believe... and that is what becomes our version of truth. Read something? Hell, that's just a publication by "the Man"... it's probably propaganda or tainted truth.
  • The problem is mainly the truth that advertisers may be coming to grips with: that their whole business may not be as effective as they believed.

    When advertisers place ads in magazines / on TV, they try to get our attention with flashy scenes, big pages, etc. But the fact is that 99% of people ignore them. And even if they DO pay attention to the ads, the odds of the add enticing them to purchase anything are low.

    Until now, advertisers have had no die hard proof about how much their ads were affecting revenues. One can't monitor everyone who buys a magazine and see how many were affected by a particular ad. All you can do is make extrapolations based on the aggrigate.

    But with internet ads, you can see EXACTLY how effective an ad is. If your clickthrough is low, the ad is not effective (at least that is the premise). So the revenues go down. It's that simple.

    This whole way of measuring ad effectiveness is ludicrous. There are no ways to measure "clickthrough" rates for magazine ads or TV ads, so why should web sites be subject to the same thing?

    Maybe this decline of the internet ad industry will cause some people depending on advertising to take a look at what they are spending so much money on, and ask if it is really effective at all, and if so, to what degree.


  • well yes there's more information available but if it's of considerably lesser quality then you can't really blame 'us' for ignoring it. perhaps this (necessary) "filtering" has made us a little impatient, but i'd hardly say that i skim-read slashdot because i'm looking for immediate gradification. the real fact of the matter is that most of it isn't worth reading, impatient or not.

    - j

  • by iso (87585) <slash&warpzero,info> on Thursday June 14, 2001 @08:11AM (#151423) Homepage

    People don't "read" Slashdot. They skim it. Most people don't even really read the posts before they start writing replies, and don't even ask about clicking links to read off-site articles.

    true, but in our defense, most of this shit isn't worth reading. i don't mean this to be flamebait, but it's bound to happen with any site who's content is primarily generated by users. there's a good chance, even with moderation, that a good number of the comments will be poorly written, perhaps with bad grammar, no thesis or common thought pattern, ignorant and/or completely wrong contect, or even written without capital letters! all of these things make reading comments painful and time-consuming.

    of course that doesn't make the content useless, and there are always gems to be found, but it does excuse us for skim reading a lot of the content here on slashdot.

    to stay on topic: as for Feed and Suck i didn't really like either site but i will miss Wednesday's Filler on Suck. any idea what "Polly Ester" will be doing in the future?

    - j

  • Quite frankly, Salon has degenerated into Tabloid.com. The quality of writing for Salon was never that great, on average, and their declining fortune has been mirrored by a similar decline in what little quality they had. I stopped reading Salon when I could no longer find any articles other than melodramatic neo-brainless-leftist drivel and insider views into the sex industry.

    Has it not occurred to anyone that web magazines are failing simply because they're crap? Even Suck, long one of my favorite sites, had become boring. You see, their schtick became old, and no wonder - Mad Magazine had already worn it out by the mid 80's.

    The real issue is not the corporatocracy per se. The suits at these media companies are not sitting around in the boardrooms dreaming up ways to destroy indie web media. The issue is that web magazines and journals are publishing crap in order to have content at all.

    For a web magazine to succeed, they will have to publish consistently good material for quite some time (and do so on a shoestring budget) in order to prove to the world at large that they are capable of equal or better quality than "Big Media." Its harder than it looks.

  • by joabj (91819) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:51AM (#151426) Homepage
    >Nobody debates that ads in magazines work,

    Actually print ads don't really work either, but there's no micro-tracking mechanism (i.e. real life counterpart of "clickthru's") to prove this. What happens is only a very small number of people will act on a magazine's ad, but usually this is, more or less, enough to pay for the ad in the first place. Plus ads help with name recognition, so no action is even required. Evidently banner ads aren't held to the same standard.And 1% click-thru is considred a "failure." Uh-huh. How many ads have you seen in magazines that you actually acted upon (visited the car dealer, whatever)???

    I suspect the real dirty secret is that its not that banner ads don't work, its just they show how badly ALL advertising works in general, at least in any sort of specific "see donut ad-->buy donut" way. But no ad agency will admit this, and very few companies w/ ad dollars want to admit this either, so there is this big consipiracy to keep shush about this so evryone who works in marketing and ad sales can keep their jobs. It's working, for now.

    The second problem is that Suck, Feed, Slate, and Salon are all essay-centered reflective publications. Sorry, there's *never* been a big market for those. The real-life counterpart to to them (Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The New Yorker) have *always* sold poorly too(around 200,000 each, actually). I don't see MSNBC or CNN.com going anywhere. ..

  • I thought Suck's original announcement said that it was a "break" for the summer. When I read that, I was kind of like, right, probably eventually a permanent break. But have they now confirmed that it's for good? If so, it's a damn shame, and when Salon dies I'm personally losing my favorite magazine, print or otherwise. -brennan
  • It seems to me that there's an interesting problem facing websites targeted at (potentially) large audiences; if the site is good, and gets popular, they're likely going to reach a point where meager ad/subscription revenues can't keep up with bandwidth costs. Are good sites going to be doomed by their own popularity? That kind of sucks to contemplate.

    -brennan

  • The problem with Katz analysis here is that it rests on the same faulty premise that Salon.Com, Feed, etc. were built -- that the only way the web will be a serious media contender is if you have these mega-magazines sites like Salon that significant percentages of people read.

    To put it bluntly, that's just plain stupid, especially with the way many of these sites spend money (i.e. faster than should be humanly possible).
  • and in 14 minutes (assuming you saw the story the second it was posted) you read it a couple times, thought it over, formed/modified an opinion, and took the time to write a response? What a crock buddy

    What, you can't read that in 14 minutes?

  • true, but in our defense, most of this shit isn't worth reading. i don't mean this to be flamebait, but it's bound to happen with any site who's content is primarily generated by users. there's a good chance, even with moderation, that a good number of the comments will be poorly written, perhaps with bad grammar, no thesis or common thought pattern, ignorant and/or completely wrong contect, or even written without capital letters! all of these things make reading comments painful and time-consuming.

    That's exactly the point. The fact that massive amounts of information are readily accessible has not improved our cognitive abilities, but hindered them; If we don't get immediate gratification, we search elsewhere. We no longer know how to sit and read something to get information out of it.

  • by zpengo (99887) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:14AM (#151434) Homepage
    This has nothing to do with "Big Media." Newspapers, magazines, book publishers, etc., are all having the same problems -- we live in a society that is bored with reading.

    You don't see blood, guns, t&a, tears, massive armies, explosions, sweat, smiles, or anything else when you read. You imagine them. Television and movies have rotted our brains enough that we are no longer capable of imagination; We simply watch. If it's not in front of us in living color, we can't understand it.

    People don't "read" Slashdot. They skim it. Most people don't even really read the posts before they start writing replies, and don't even ask about clicking links to read off-site articles.

    This has nothing to do with Big Media and everything to do with information apathy.

  • You're missing the point. The end result of capitalism is a single monopoly. We saw it at the beginning of the last century, and it is making a fashionable comeback at the beginning of this century. Corporations have no obligations to the consumer, their only legal obligation is to the shareholder. That's why there are decisions by companies like Firestone that figure 100 deaths is better than 1 million recalls: simple math. Our current system of government is toothless against these corporations. First, corporations make huge contributions to lawmakers. Even if you don't believe this is a "pay-to-play" system, one must admit that all that cash gives AOL/Time-Warner a rather loud megaphone to broadcast its views. Second, corporations have all the rights of humans (except for the Fourth Amendment, I believe), with none of the pesky drawbacks, like mortality.

    "Big Media" is a problem because "Big Media" has an interest in what news it lets its consumers hear. Did anyone expect to hear criticism on the Time-Warner holdings about the AOL/Time-Warner merger? Recently, The Boston Globe [boston.com] refused to run an ad critical of Staples. (See FAIR [fair.org] for a summary) The Globe is owned by the same company that owns The LA Times [latimes.com] -- both with strong ties to Staples.

    This "Corporate Republic bullshit" is not getting old. It's terrifying to see that success is measured only in dollars. It's horrifying to see large corporations spreading their money around, strangling voices of dissent with cash. It's disgusting that people aren't pissed about the narrowing of social dialogue.
  • by demaria (122790) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @08:00AM (#151442) Homepage
    There's also the problem of rotational banner ads. Sure, it's good in some ways, not in other ways. For example, here I'm holding the latest copy of Network Computing (heh). Page 80, an ad for WhatsUpGold and a link to a free demo. This intersts me, but I want to look at it later. I can come back tomorrow, next week, a year later, and find the ad and the hyperlink.

    Now reload just the slashdot page. You got a different ad. Sometimes I miss a banner ad, or click a link and then realize I want to see that banner ad, but the next page loads, and when you go back, the previous banner has rotated. And I've never seen a website have an "advertiser index" like so many magazines have.
  • I think this comment is dead on. I mean, Salon actually *went public*. It's a MAGAZINE, for goodness' sake. (There are certainly magazines owned by publically traded companies, but those magazines are not their entire business by any means.) In most cases, when people are getting to do something they truly love (like write), they can be satisfied with a moderate income because their life is a good one. The way I see it, that's the approach the folks running sites like Salon and Feed should have taken. Greed, as usual, turned out to be the fatal flaw.
  • People are beginning to act like there's a big conspiracy to push the little guys around. The truth is, the little guys just don't have the Micro$oft sized bank accounts to say on their feet when the economy slows like it recently has. People no longer throw money at the WWW like they used to. People finally came out of the haze of the new 'gold rush' myth. When the money stops flowing, everyone takes the hit, but some just don't have the shields to take the hit and keep going. Then again, you should all be looking at the bright side... People have a lot of spare time, so I would expect Open Source projects to be popping up everywhere soon.

    ---=-=-=-=-=-=---

  • I think this article would be more interesting if John Katz had looked at why we Americans don't mind that their media has the intellectual content of a noodle. I have a hard time attributing this attitude to a sort of brainwashing on the part of the media conglomerates.

    What's wrong with we Americans that we act like the Meloi of H. G. Well's The Time Traveler? Why do we accept such a low intellectual level of public discourse? How is it that "professional wrestling" is even considered a sport?

    I think questions like these need answering before we grumble about the big bad conglomerates. After all, they do give us what we want. If we want pablum, they'll give it to us.

  • by clary (141424) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:24AM (#151449)
    This creates an odd new reality for media online. Individual voices have never been freer, more numerous or outspoken -- witness the rise of instant messaging and inward-looking p2p forums. But they've also never been more marginalized or insignificant.
    If many people patronize and spend money on "big media" products, who cares? That must be what they want...or one could say that is what they deserve.

    It is a simple mathematical fact many, many sources of media mean that most of them will not be viewed by a significant fraction of the viewers. So what? My mom and dad will never be remotely interested in Slashdot. They read their local newspapers and watch some network news. Are they being victimized by big media?

    The good news here is still (for the time being, anyway) that people interested in almost any arcane topic can find information and opinion about it. When something threatens to shut down individual voices, then gripe away. But don't bitch because the masses don't appreciate your pet "elite" media outlet. The market does not owe you eyes for your favorite content.

  • Why do Iranians and Guatamalans have contempt for the US?

    On monday I watched a documentary on the history channel about the CIA in Iran. I don't know who bank-rolls the channel, but I'd reckon they aren't small.

    The information is out there, its just that people don't seem actively interested in it

  • a long time ago.

    Suck was cool b/c they said the stuff you were thinking in a way you might say it. /. lets you do the talking.

    Humans like that. Hell we'll even click on links and purchase little tiny stickers for a dollar. [thinkgeek.com]

    Subsequently /. lives Suck doesn't.
    ---
  • All excellent points. People DON'T pay for the web.

    point : People dont _have to_ pay for TV. Advertising pays for TV. (Yeah yeah, cable, satellites, yadda yadda.) All people need to do is actually buy stuff on the web. Of course consumer confidence is low. Websites go out business really fast. Even when they have cool names like eToys.

    counterpoint : there's no _good way_ to pay for anything on the web. Let's say I find MegaNews useful. If MegaNews were a papr newspaper I could hand the magazine man 50 cents everyday and read the paper OR I could subscribe to the paper for home delivery.

    But MegaNews is ONLY on the web. THe web has the following problems:

    1 - Every time a kid in Finland gets a day off from school sites get:
    +DDoSed
    +Shut Down
    +Hacked
    +Cracked
    +Defaced

    2 - Internt connections can be slow.

    3 - Heavily trafficked sites can be slow while everything else is fast (see also /.)

    4 - My information will be sold

    5 - My information will be stolen

    6 - My ISP is out of business/broken.

    7 - FP

    Who want to pay for that? How do you pay for thar? Year sub scription? Monthly, Weekly?
    ---
  • "One of the persistent myths about the Net has been that because it costs so little to publish online, and the technology makes it so simple, diversity can flourish in cyberspace no matter how big "Big" media gets. As we're learning, that isn't so."

    That's not a myth! The Web is more diverse than ever. Yes, it's true some of the larger and older sites are dying, and more will continue, but really there are a million new small sites wainting to take their place. Becuase a few english majors making $110,000 a year got laid off doesn't mean a damn thing for diversity on the web.

    SIZE != QUALITY when it comes to websites.

    "Weblogs and blogs can be vibrant and fascinating. So can mailing lists and me-to-me-media media entities. But they don't reach significant numbers of people; "

    Sure they do, ever heard of the slashdot effect?

    Low barriers to entry ensure there are pleanty of sites waiting to jump in where suck, and maybe salon have failed.

  • by captainober (153561) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:18AM (#151461)
    James Madison and Alexander Hamilton harped on the necessity of an informed and active populous to drive democracy. With intelligent, public discourse reaching anemic levels in the US I can't help but be a bit uneasy. We haven't and are not taking the time to dial-in and figure out what the hell is happening. Why is the price of oil so high? Why are term limits riduculous and un-democratic? Why do Iranians and Guatamalans have contempt for the US? These questions are no longer even contemplated in the media (and worse, in the schools). So how can we make good decisions when its time to vote or, god forbid, protest? The answer is: We don't make good decisions - in fact many now chose no decision: Apathy. Moral indifference! That should have us worried. Corporations don't answer to people like governments potentially do/could. Don't give me that shareholders arguement either - it doesn't hold up! Now our opinions are shaped by corporate interests, with an agenda, and no accountability. Could this be a problem? huh, me thinks maybe. (longest post ever)
  • by yankeehack (163849) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @08:07AM (#151464)
    about Suck going under. For our amusement, google still has some commentary about you still cached [google.com].

  • I think Katz is underestimating the longterm influence of homegrown zines and blogs. I know many people who don't even touch mainstream news anymore because of things like this. The big guys can get as big as they want, but that doesn't mean they are always going to be the last word on anything. Sometimes people want to get word out on something without a financial incentive. Don't tell me you get paid a lot for this...
  • The real threat is that companies like AOL Time Warner and media outlets like MSN are already marginalizing, then eliminating lesser competitors by offering vast amounts of content and service to middle-class consumers at relatively low cost.

    Heavens no! Now we have no choice but to receive lower priced content thanks to fair competition. I think we need to call in the National Gaurd.

    Sarcasm aside, isn't this the goal of a free marketplace; companies that offer more to customers for less will survive while the rest will flounder. Though, I can see why a freelance content producer like Katz would object to consolidation and the lessening of demand for independent Internet content :-).

  • by *weasel (174362) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:20AM (#151470)
    Are we going to fault everyone else besides ourselves for the decline in Net content? I mean, if a business' revenue is not sufficient to cover its costs (bandwidth mostly) - isn't that just a bad business? Does it matter what the content is? or who's backing it?

    Is it really indicative of a state of our 'new' economy? If we can't produce content that people are willing to pay subscription fees for, or generate the audiences that advertisers are willing to pay to advertise too - then how exactly is that the fault of the conglomerates?

    Perhaps Feed and Suck were too niche. Perhaps Salon just isn't all that great. Can you deny that they'd never have gotten half their time in the sun in paper and ink?

    The Net has lowered the barrier of entry into the world economy - but it's even more ruthless on bad business. You can't succeed just because there's no competition in your area. All competition is everywhere. You have to provide the content that creates an audience that you can sell.

    Demonizing the big businesses because a site 'suck'd and died is really quite childish.

    online magazines are a business like any other. As an added advantage - the costs for an ezine roughly equate to exactly as many issues being printed as needed - so even if msnbc and cnn ate their audience - if they had decent content and a revenue stream then they'd be able to cover and cultivate the audience they kept.

    who knows, in 5 years maybe we'll see that there is -no- market for content like salon, slate, or suck online. Perhaps their light-minded drivel is best suited for dead-tree editions you pick up for the flight and discard.

    You can't blame the conglomerates for everything. The audience spoke and killed those zines. If people find content worth it - they'll pay. Perhaps when all the other zines dry up - and there's no other place to turn online to waste some time - a quality subscription site will spring up and flourish.

    or not.


  • I've been noodling on this for a while and it is disconcerting to me that these media outlets are shutting down or floundering.

    The dearth of weblog content is an incredible outlet for relevant information on world events, often relayed by the very participants in the news. However, too often, the linking goes back to major media outlets or a subsidary of one a large corporation.

    While even further "elite" discussion boards and content sites will flourish (uber [www.uber.nu], A List Apart [alistapart.com] and Flak [flakmag.com] spring to mind), they lack the resources to disseminate their clever and unabashed content.

    Publishing tools like blogger [blogger.com] make it easy for the non-technical user to publish their thoughts, witticism, and commentary to the web. It is only when these sites reach critical mass (Kottke.org [kottke.org], Zeldman.com [zeldman.com]) that it becomes hugely expense to continue relaying the message.

    I see the future of independent content lying in the hands of smaller, more focused community sites (Metafilter [metafilter.com], The Fray [fray.org])

    Despite their shortcomings, these sites are paving the way backwards to a smaller, more closely knit internet the way it was several years ago.

    Suzie Homemaker and Joe Six-pack will continue to the media that's delivered to them, and the rest who desire the independent voice will seek it and should they not find it, they will create it as they always have.

  • I want to see micropayments Real Soon Now! I've written my bank to tell them to get working on micropayments Right Now. I would encourage everybody to do the same.

    I would certainly pay Salon by micropayments if I had the chance. I think this is very, very important.

    I wonder why the Common Markup for micropayment per-fee-links [w3.org] hasn't advanced to Candidate Recommendation...? It has two implementations allready, it should have been a Recommendation by now...

  • Just in case somebody still reads this stuff: I just signed up for Salon Premium [salon.com], with the main motivation of supporting Salon. I really don't have the time to read that much, and for magazines like Salon, I would prefer to pay by micropayments. But then, $30 a year isn't that much, and I would hate to see Salon going down.
  • I don't think mindless mass culture is anything new. Common "low-brow" culture has historically been somewhat crude and silly (not that there's anything wrong with that.). At least we don't do bear-baiting anymore.

    What is new, and far more dangerous, is that parallel to this trend of dumbing-down mass culture Americans have also villified and ridiculed "high-brow" culture as pompous, stuffy, and elitist. Combine this with market forces driving the culture towards the median of intelligence, and effectively killing off any alternative. Welcome to the monoculture, gentlemen.

    And the Meloi are from H.G. Well's Time Machine not Time Traveller.

    /bluesninja

  • We can only hope that Katz is right insofar as the "Corporate Republic" is powerful enough to shut him up. Then we can fight back, and maybe even find people who have something insightful and relevant to say on a subject to publish in our new netzines.

    As far as I'm concerned, as long as Katz gets published (on and off line), we don't have to worry one bit about the average (or really really below average) person's ability to display to the world the depth of their brilliance.

  • (not that anyone will read this so far down...)
    I found this ironically amusing:
    Salon has for years provided some of the smartest coverage of technology anywhere. None of the big media companies offer smart and smart-ass commentary the way Suckonce did. What's the last provocative story or discussion you saw in a Disney or AOL Time Warner property or on AOL?

    And when was the last time we saw Slashdot do a provocative story about Slashdot, or OSDN, or Andover? When was the last time JonKatz did hard-hitting story about the lengthy articles by JonKatz?

    The truth is, companies, like people don't like to beat themselves up. Salon, which I've followed for a couple years now, doesn't do articles about how it might suck or be a voice for the liberal elite, or whatever (except when the conservative David Horowitz gets flamed by liberal columnists and vice-versa).

    At, in the very lest, writers for large companies will take on the other large companies. (I've seen this several times in Newsweek)
    -----
    D. Fischer
  • Here's another article on this subject.

    You may find it interesting: Sucked: A Fish, a Barrel, and a Rubber Check. [ridiculopathy.com]

  • by ageitgey (216346) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @08:06AM (#151495) Homepage
    Automatic Media (owned Suck and Feed) was a business. The bottom line is that they have to have money to pay employees or they can no longer exist. So what kind of options does an online magazine have for funding?

    Banners - These suck. The cpm's are falling every day. For whatever reason people aren't convinced they are worth paying much for. Also, half the time the banner company or advertiser doesn't pay the bill. An thus you can't pay your bills. There was a GREAT article on this on kuro5hin a while back where some people actually ran the numbers. It might be possible to make a profit with banners (slashdot), but it is very very hard. Most sites are lucky if they can pay for hosting with banners.

    Subscription - Could be a viable idea. Too bad no one is subscribing. If you are a small professional publication like Suck, you have to compete with the conglomerates on the news side and the bloggers on the community side. Unfortunately, that leaves you stuck in the middle charging money while those you are competing with are giving away the content for free. What do you have to offer? Even sites that have rabidly loyal readers probably can't make this work. Why? Look at which real magazines sell well. Maxim? Stuff for Men (same company)? Generic woman's magazine? All those magazines are super-formulaic dribble targeted at the general population. Suck and Feed just don't appeal to most readers. Certainly not enough to make any real money. Look at me, I'm a total web addict and I didn't read either.

    Micropayments - Am I the only one who thinks this is stupid? What successful business plan supports itself with tiny margins. How do you collect payments without spending more on the collection process? Ask anyone who's appeared on a talk show. It's more work than it's worth to cash some 8 cent checks you get from reruns. The only way this could work would be if a close system like PayPal let people have accounts and slushed micropayments around internally. But I still don't think it will work.

    The balanced financial plan - We've taken a different approach. Our business plan doesn't require us to make any money. What we pay for hosting each month is about what I would spend on a meal at Wendy's. Add to that a slashdot-like submission system and our desire to write good articles about music for the fun of it and you have a system that works. We can never go out of business because we have almost no real costs. The worst thing that could happen is that we get bored. On the plus side, we don't have to display annoying standard banners or anything like that. Any money we make from affiliate type deals or short-term advertising contracts with specific businesses goes right into our pockets (and back into the site). IF people enjoy our content and site enough to want to pay for it or we grow large enough to attract some other sort of deal, fine. But we are happy now. I'd do it just for the free concert tickets.

    Ok, so maybe I'm being negative. But the bottom line is that the mainstream press does a nice job of catering to the mainstream. The blog community caters to those who want an online community. Business-wise, there just isn't much room left. I say start the site because you care about what you are writing about. If a couple years down the road it becomes profitable, great.

  • A decade or so back and everyone thought AM radio was dead. Goofy plans to present Stereo AM came along, hoping to pump new life into the band, but talk radio shows for politics, sports and advice reinvented it and made it bigger than FM.

    That there are people like Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh running in syndication, and doing quite well, suggests there is an appetite for other media opinions. Unlike radio, where a station manager may or may not carry a broadcast because it riles the sensibilities of listeners, the web is everywhere from, accessible to pretty much everyone (don't got a computer? check your library, school or community center) While web filtering may block some content, much opinion can still get through to those who persevere. (Do you ever wonder if Big Media is behind some of these filtering initiatives?)

    Like TV, Magazines, Newspapers, the web also can be walked away from. I get most of my local news and discussion at the town watering hole (except on weekends when it's overrun by tourists, tho some bring news from their parts of the world and can be fun to talk to.)

    This is a danger that much of the hacker universe has missed from the beginning.

    I'm not sure what this actually has to do with hackers, since, by nature hackers converse through USENET, IRC, and other outlets. If any entity is successful in throttling USENET then hackers be afraid, very afraid.

    --
    All your .sig are belong to us!

  • I run a technology news site. I dont make money with it, i loose money (hosting costs). there was a great article on that on somethingawful http://www.somethingawful.com/features/stateofthei nternet/ Its sometimes hard to stay motivated if traffic is not increasing. I guess thats a problem of many small web blogs. There is no return of investment, especially these days. Its still fun, but it would be more fun to reach more and more people and at least break even.
    Plug: http://www.i4u.com
  • This article doesn't do shit to support the idea that alternative media are dead. It makes half a case (and a decent half) that it's hard to make money at it.

    It also ignores not-for-profit personal pages and blogs, user-moderated news sites like /. and K5, and other organically-grown phenomena have.

    And perhaps that's the key: Suck, Feed, etc. set out to make a profit. Maybe that's the wrong way: Maybe, like hotornot.com [hotornot.com], you have to come up with a good idea over beers, and it has to take off on its own before you move to a profit model.

    Anyway, that's my US$2e-2 on how to kill big media - it's not going to be Wired or Suck, but hotornot.com that does it.

    OK,
    - B
    --

  • I don't see Usenet (personal favourate comp.risks [comp.risks]) or well run mailing lists (say Interesting People [interesting-people.org] ) disappearing any time soon.

    The mistake Jon Katz (and Salon, Suck, etc) makes is the thinking "new media" will look similar to old media. New media is different. Just as print media is different from broadcast media.

    It is pretty ironic for this Jon Katz spiel to be posted to a true "New Media" site like Slashdot, which couldn't exist in traditional medias, yet seems to continue without too much worry AFAIK of running out of money.

    It would silly to wonder why a radio station that only updated their news once a day, like newspapers did, why they would be driven out of business; they are working within a different system with different capabilities and their competitors will embrace those advantages.

    Join the Cluetrain [cluetrain.com].

  • Big Media...ya right. The problem with Suck and every other high-quality failure is revenues! Until someone figures out a way to make advertising 'pay' on the Web, this scenario is destined to repeat itself. Like traditional media, advertising dollars pay the rent - not subscription fees. If Time magazine or your local newspaper tried to fund itself via subscription fees, the huge sucking sound you'd hear would by customers running for the door. The Web is no different.

    No matter how good the content, it's getting tougher to find advertisers willing to put a ton of dough into Website sponsorships. Lots of top-notch writing and lots of top-notch web design costs money. Sure there are e-zines out there running on a shoestring, but they are largely aimed at small niche communities and run by volunteer labour (or at least eschew profit-making).

    Advertising on the Web is inherently difficult. In printed media (for example) the advertisment is going to sit on the page until you're done reading the page. This paradigm does not hold too much water in the electonic format. So until there is a compelling advertising model and supporting technology for the Web, professionally-produced 'magazine' content will be difficult to keep alive.

  • A lot of people have mentioned the fog that exists in determining user response to print ads that is not present in banner ads, and how it's questionable whether print ads work. You'll note that I didn't say "Print ads work." I said "Nobody debates that ads in magazines work," meaning that it's accepted and widely leveraged as a means of advertising. Ergo, from the standpoint of the publisher (the real point here), they do work, because they bring in significant revenue. And while banner ads may or may not work as well from an advertiser standpoint (only to be seen as a failure because the low response rate is clearly documented), banner ads do not live up to the original expectations that were created. Like so many other things, they were supposed to be the magic bullet to render everything else obsolete, and did not achieve that; as a result, anything less is seen not in objective terms, but as a failure to reach a goal.
  • by Shoten (260439) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:10AM (#151516)
    Part of the problem with the entire business model around online magazines has to do with advertising. Nobody debates that ads in magazines work, and those ads make up a significant part of revenue for the publishers. That's also why high-end geeks in influential positions get enough offers for free magazines that if they fill out all the forms they'd have enough paper to burn through a cold winter in Alaska and still stay warm. Simply put, the magazine can point to "x number of readers who make influential decisions" and thereby lure advertisers.

    The other part of the problem is that a standard magazine uses a "push" method of distribution. You don't have to go check for the magazine, it comes to you when it's ready. It says, essentially, "Hey, I'm here...time to read me!" On the other hand, websites are not that way, with the singular exception of whichever site is set as your default page in your browser. Yes, you may have a few you check every day, but how many are you really going to want to have to remember?

  • Maybe the reason that typical online media is failing is the net users value a forum over a lecture. Not available with a typical magazine (except for a select few in Letters to the Editor), sites like Slashdot allow content to be posted and discussed by both the editors and the readers. Maybe, despite their bits and bytes, these online magazines tried too hard to be like their paper counterparts.
  • It is sad to see so many titles go down, however the good news is that the advertising business model is viable, the problem is that the business plans that believed the advertizing base would grow fast enough were not.

    The Web will still change the media world, it will just take fifteen or twenty years rather than the six months the 'Internet time' cretins blathered about.

    Changing peoples way of life takes time, live with it.

  • But with internet ads, you can see EXACTLY how effective an ad is. If your clickthrough is low, the ad is not effective (at least that is the premise). So the revenues go down. It's that simple.

    I don't think that the effectiveness can be measured 'exactly'. It is possible to detect occasions on which an advert has lead directly to a sale. But why should that happen very often anyway? A lot of the time advertising is a cumulative process, you see the ad, register the message and then refer back when you actually need (or want) the product.

    I don't doubt that Nike get every penny back that they pay Tiger Woods for hawking their sweatshop produced clothing. However I don't think anyone sees Tiger Woods in his swoosh cap and runs out to the mall to buy one like it.

    I suspect that a bigger part of the problem is that the Web changes the nature of advertising from paid placement to attracting trafic to the advertiser's web site. If you open up any hobbyist magazine you will see page after page of advertisements that are simply lists of products and prices. Nobody would place that kind of an ad in Salon, they would have a link to their own site and host the catalog there. The other big advertising money spinner is classified ads and EBay has cornered that market.

  • by Zeinfeld (263942) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:29AM (#151521) Homepage
    "New Media" is the term that people (dare I say like yourself) came up with to describe the Internet. They did this because they were initially unable to comprehend the aspects of it that were not directly analagous to their world.

    Untrue on both counts. The term 'New Media' was coined to get people consulting gigs. The people who actually invented the Internet and the Web knew what they were doing all along. The people who had zero clue were the analysts and journalists who spent their time interviewing each other and bilging out puff pieces about 'internet time'. Nine years on and the Web is still a work in progress, so what was that 'internet time' they were talking about?

    Most people talking about new media were talking about two things, interactivity and a different cost structure to print or TV. Interactivity is what brings people to Slashdot. Newspapers have always had letters pages, but online forums take the concept much further.

    The difference in the cost structure online vs print is dramatic. If you don't have to pay for the content, publishing becomes close to free. If you are a government you can probably save money by putting documents online rather than printing them.

    Where people's expectations failed was when they fooled themselves into thinking that new media would lead to new media empires. I don't believe that was ever going to happen and if it did what does it benefit anyone if an old media conglomerate like Time-Warner is replaced by a new media conglomerate like AOL?

    We always thought that online new media would be small scale mom 'n pop type stuff with a few medium sized outfits (which it is mainly, look at the prOn sites). When the new media companies started to employ staffs of 100+ the writing was on the wall.

  • The primary reason that Salon and Slate and other "Web magazines" is not that there is something inherently wrong with the format. The problem is that people are starting to reject the content. Salon and Slate are well-known unapologetic mouthpieces of the liberal left, and poll after poll is showing that Americans are increasingly not interested in liberalism. With conservatives running the show in Washington, the country is beginning to gravitate back towards its moral roots. The few Americans that do admit to liberalism are not even close to the number that would be required to keep Salon afloat (through ad revenue or any other means.) If you have no readers, you cannot possibly succeed.

    Take a look at WorldNetDaily [worldnetdaily.com], a popular mainstream news outlet/magazine. WND is consistently voted the best site on the Web, and is going strong even as leftist sites crumble down around it. The point is that Web journalism is alive and well (and in fact, doing better than it ever has done before.) The fact that some of the old standbys are dying out is just a natural part of information evolution; it is the wheat being separated from the chaff.
  • When the only tool you have to sell is a hammer, you describe every problem like a nail.
    --
  • One assumption you apparently made in writing this article is that giant companies are forever.

    You may or may not remember that AOL started as a little yappy dog biting the ankles of CompuServe and Prodigy. At the time AOL was lauded by many as the little guy who was making good inroads in a market dominated by the giant CompuServe. AOL won its position in the world today through a combination of skilled businessmanship and luck.

    Somewhere right now is a little company with four or five staffers which will one day eat AOL's lunch.

    It may be a little group like feed or suck.

    But if there are a thousand little companies that aspire to be the next AOL, then 999 of them will fail. Many will fail because they just weren't good enough, many will fail because they just weren't lucky enough. And many will fail because they were clobbered by AOL. That's the way it goes.

  • "We do not expect to generate sufficient revenues to achieve profitability and, therefore, we expect to continue to incur net losses for at least the foreseeable future. If we do achieve profitability, we may not be able to sustain it. Failure to become and remain profitable may materially and adversely affect the market price of our common stock and our ability to raise capital and continue operations."

    Anyone else finds this alarming?

    The problem the online community and the worst open source fanatics have is that they simply fail to understand the simple fact that companies _and_ the people who work there must make money in order to be able to pay their bills.

    It's just as simple as that. It's nice to get things for free but a healthy economy can never be built on sharing (ask the former communist countries).

    I'm all for online communities and magazines. I'm also all for open source (as in getting the source to software you use). But PAYMENT must be included in all those business models.

    If you run online magazines request that the banks hurry up in the development of micropayments.

    If you develop open source software. Request money for it's END USE but let people do whatever they want with it otherwise.
  • by codeforprofit2 (457961) on Thursday June 14, 2001 @07:04AM (#151568)
    "Many in the geek and hacker universe have arrogantly underestimated Big Media as being both toothless and clueless. "

    Ehhh? What?

    WFT are you talking about, it certainly isn't "Big Medias" fault!

    The one and only problem here is that THEY DON'T MAKE MONEY. End of story!

    The very same problem the open source companies have out there. Companies (and their employees) must make money to survive, welcome to reality!
  • He's not blaming the corporations per se; he's saying that we have given the corporations control by default due to our apathy and lack of involvement. That's quite different.

    By the way, I really wish people would recognize that there are states existing between pure capitalism and pure socialism. There seems to be a problem in the psyches of some people that disallows the possibility of admitting that a country can combine capitalism with other, rather more humanitarian, philosophies. Philosophies and economic systems may look rather simple in theory, but the practise of both usually involves rather a lot of compromise. The difficulty comes when people believe they are in a purely capitalist society, and decry others as being purely socialist. There are a hell of a lot of countries out there who take pretty damn good care of their citizens in matters such as public health care and yet allow the free market to run relatively unimpeded. They're not -- despite what the knee-jerk activist may say -- socialist; nor are they capitalist. They're not even perfect. They are, however, a healthy balance of ideologies.

    Ultimately, there are a lot of people posting to forums like SlashDot, writing in newspapers, and speaking on radio talkshows, who desperately need to read a dictionary, read some newspapers (including some with sources from outside their country of residence), and get a grip on reality & stop thinking in terms of pure black and white. Life usually isn't quite that simple, unlike the inhabitants.
  • I can't agree with your statements regarding "Corporate America", not because there isn't some grain of truth in what you are stating, but rather because it fails to acknowledge the salience of corporate opinion and its influence on policy, culture, economics, and all areas in between, based on the interesting idiosyncracies of technological innovation in conjunction with an overwhelmed/apathetic populace -- one that often just wants to sign over its civil and commercial liberties in the name of convenience.

    We are in an era paralleling the Industrial Revolution, where emergent qualities of growing technologies are just now being understood, often by a select few, and with a greater effect than previous methodologies.

    One can look at this as an algorithmic paradigm, where understanding the key functions, the loop invariants and the cost of operations is tantamount to holding a gun to a person's head, albeit in a more passive-aggressive manner. It's not precisely Corporate America's fault, nor is it necessarily Big Government's fault; rather, it is any entity that understands the algorithmic nature of information dissimination, and control. Historically, this has been anthing from the "priest" classes in ancient Mayan and Inca cultures to the McCarthyist zealots who swayed public opinion in the mid 20th century, to the monolithic AOL-everywheres running greedy algorithms, all vying for "impressions" upon your cerebral cortex.

    So why is "Corporate Republic" such a salient target of scrutiny and suspicion? One: because people don't remember the very-real scourge of "Big Government" in this age of globalization and liquid commerce. The paradigm has changed, and every new generation attaches its understanding to what it sees, decrying history as myth ("it couldn't have been THAT bad!" they say). And TWO: What is of interest NOW is the acceleration of these processes, through the advent of instantaneous communications, the distillation of information to its purest forms, and the plasticity of information (just about anything can be digitized, and almost anything can be changed from one data type to another, to use a programming analogy). Our Western reductionistic methods have indeed found the base of our existence, and it is information. And as any good Western society will tell you, the fastest route between two points is indeed a straight line.

    Don't blame the actors, they're just doing their "job." It's one's lack of interest in the underlying processes, one's forfeiture of interest in lieu of convenient answers and mediocre content, that are causing forums like Suck and Salon to suffer, because there are far more people willing to trade their intelligence for a bit of convenience.

    Now, if only somebody could figure out an algorithmic process (read: "business plan") to make it more enticing to actually THINK!

    cheers

ASHes to ASHes, DOS to DOS.

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