At Portfolio, Felix Salmon in his Market Movers blog writes in his post Why All Consumer Magazines Should be Free Online on why it is worthwhile for magazines to put their content online for free, and why free doesn’t mean a loss of revenue against print.
He cites an article in the Observer that quotes the Rolling Stone’s editor, Will Dana, and discusses the magazine’s decision to post only leaders on their web site. Felix writes:
The really depressing quote here is the one from Will Dana saying that he had absolutely no idea whether or not truncating pieces online results in fewer print sales, but that, well, he does it anyway. Clearly, if truncating pieces doesn’t cannibalize print sales, then it’s a no-brainer to publish everything in full online. And there’s no reason to believe that such cannibalization actually happens, in the magazine world. And yet editors still willingly give up very real web traffic for the sake of protecting imaginary marginal magazine sales which may or may not be lost as a result.
Publishing in full isn’t just about maximizing web traffic, either: it’s also about not pissing off your readers. When I read a great article in the Atlantic, I want to blog it; many other people in my position will at the very least want to be able to email it to their friends and colleagues. None of that is really possible unless and until it’s online. And since the internet thrives on the new, and hates the old, people want to link to you when the magazine comes out. No one wants to link to you weeks later, when it’s old news.
Taking this long view, that most content online should ultimately be free, and rethinking what readers actually pay for, forces a consideration of new services — exactly what will enable publishers and content distributors to survive.