Has Chris Anderson Crossed to the Dark Side?

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Last week, Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief for Wired Magazine and author of The Long Tail and Free, took a trip to the Dark Side. In doing so, he introduced a 689354_27523471_gothic_stairs_royalty_free_stock_xchng_300cavalcade of fascinating concepts, revealed an insider’s secret fear and scared the you-know-what out of a cadre of faithful fans. What did he say? More importantly, why did he say it? Most urgently, does this portend a change no one wants to see?

Speaking at RIT’s “The Future of Reading” conference, Anderson offered no apologies for the apparent decline in the publishing industry – he pointed out Conde Nast, his employer, had sales growth in 2009 despite the record industry downturn. Further, he added these two choice morsels: “books still work” and “the web FAILed.”

Actually, in the case of the latter, Anderson referred to his own magazine’s site, which generates precious little cash flow for his company. You could envision him shudder as he spoke this. But, while jettisoning the world wide web-based business model, he’s embracing the wide world of web-based tablet computers (and the iPad in particular). He shared the results of Wired’s successful iPad launch earlier this month. In its first 10 days, the $4.99 iPad app sold 80,000 copies, roughly the equivalent of one month’s newsstand sales.

What’s more, the immersive iPad experience represents a quantum leap beyond Wired.com – itself a mere mimic of typical on-line content. “Long-form journalism does not translate well to the Web,” said the industry icon. The iPad’s touch screen enables the reader to view Wired in a manner more akin to the physical magazine. Yet, the iPad is not a magazine – it is something more. Anderson broadly declared, “We had the opportunity to invest a new medium.” With layout of a magazine, the hyperlink potential of a web-site and the unique interactivity of, well, an iPad, the new Wired app gives the reader a bang for the buck.

But it also rewrites the lingo of the magazine industry. Anderson smartly suggests several popular terms may soon become archaic. For example, the tablet experience contains no front page and no back page. These two prime pieces of periodic real estate lose their luster. The front page, a must for attracting newsstand browsers, becomes unnecessary when there are so many other possible entry points. The back page, long a bastion for the highest priced ad rates, falls extinct when there is no reason to turn to a back page.

The meaning melts for other layout concepts as “spread,” “fold,” “header,” “footer” and even “page numbers.” Other lures like “pull quotes” and “headlines” disappear in importance.

What about advertising? Aye! There’s the rub! Anderson explained traditional web-based advertising, with its banners and set layout patterns, actually encouraged readers to ignore certain parts of the screen. With the iPad, ads become immersive, too. Not only can advertisers produce more interesting ads, but, at least in the case of Wired, readers must “page through” every ad. There is no zap button. This permits people like Anderson to charge more lucrative rates. Ah, Anakin has begun the transition to Darth Vader.

And at what cost do we plebeians enjoy this rare privilege of paying Apple to read our magazines? Why, as told by Chris Anderson, the free content on the web will be removed.

But, but, but… For goodness sake, this is the author of Free talking! What’s a info-addicted web-maniac to do? “Oh, don’t worry,” promises he of The Long Tail, “nobody reads the stuff we’re taking off.”

Somewhere, in a far, far distant galaxy (perhaps in Topeka), a young rebel dreams of releasing the down-trodden from the shackles of the Dark Side.

We can only hope he has a more successful business model.

Comments

  1. Chris, great article! Looks like we’re both on the same page with Anderson’s talk:

    http://blog.bobwrightcreative.com/chris-anderson-defining-magazines-and-the-future-of-wired

    Also, I noticed that the D&C covered the talk in their Friday paper, too.

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