Friday, July 25, 2014

The New Yorker offers a big summer online bonus as it ramps up its Web operation -- and revamps access to it


Barry Blatt, The New Yorker

by Ken

In case you've missed the announcement, made at the end of the "Talk of the Town" section of the July 28 issue and featured prominently all week on, The New Yorker has implemented some major decisions about online availability of its content. And the big news -- for nonsubscribers, at least -- is that for the summer, at least, everything is going to be made available free to one and all.
When we started, we, like everyone else, faced the dilemma of what to post online. Give it all away or hold things back? That was the question. Our approach was . . . both. We posted some pieces from the print magazine but held most of them back; our subscribers could, with a little effort, unlock those blue padlocks and read it all.

It’s fair to say that this split-the-difference approach was not ideal. Beginning this week, absolutely everything new that we publish—the work in the print magazine and the work published online only—will be unlocked. All of it, for everyone. Call it a summer-long free-for-all. Non-subscribers will get a chance to explore The New Yorker fully and freely, just as subscribers always have.
What happens after the summer?
[I]n the fall, we move to a second phase, implementing an easier-to-use, logical, metered paywall. Subscribers will continue to have access to everything; non-subscribers will be able to read a limited number of pieces—and then it’s up to them to subscribe. You’ve likely seen this system elsewhere—at the Times, for instance—and we will do all we can to make it work seamlessly.
We've had a fair number of occasions to express our sympathy to all publications that are faced with figuring out a workable business model in a world in transition from print to digital, more or less. I always come back to the obvious point: Nice as it is to get free stuff, if publishers can't figure out a way to pay for the cost of their content, and have a shot at making some money in the process, how on earth can they continue to publish that content, in any form?

I've wished both the New York Times and the Washington Post luck in their online-content-sharing models, even as I've continued to feel that participating in their plans is economically unrealistic and inadvisable for me personally. And that's no matter how many rock-bottom "introductory" offers they offer me. (For the record, I tend in general not to be too impressed by "introductory" offers on services I'm looking to use over the longer haul,) I may not be thrilled with they way those papers do important parts of their jobs, but I don't think the world would be better off without them, and if they can't figure out how to make money on their product, I don't see how they can continue to produce that product.

I personally am in a different situation with The New Yorker, since it's hard for me to imagine getting along with the printed product. And I use the website a lot. In which connection, I can't say I'm thrilled by this:
We’ll undoubtedly remind you again, but, come fall, subscribers will be able to make use of a plan that gives them unlimited access to, and our complete archive, using a Web browser on any smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer. They’ll also be able to download our magazine app for tablets and smartphones—the full issue of each week’s magazine—to read anytime, anywhere, on a wide range of devices, via the iTunes App Store, Google Play, or Amazon.
Which sounds like it means that if I want to continue to have "unlimited access to, and our complete archive" -- and the New Yorker complete archive is indeed a wondrous feature, when you consider who and what the magazine has published in its soon-to-be 90 years -- I'm going to have to buy a "plan," and it's a plan under which I'm going to be paying for access "on a wide range of devices" that I have no intention of using. Hey, that's one of the reasons I've never seriously considered buying an NYT "plan." They say they're including the smartphone and tablet features free with digital access; I say that's nonsense and an insult to my intelligence -- of course subscribers are paying for that access. It's just that some of us are being asked to pay for it without ever intending to use it. Hmm.


The "Note to Our Readers" begins by evoking the magazine's legendary founding editor: "In February, it will be ninety years since Harold Ross founded The New Yorker." The editors continue:
It’s amazing what fruits of his invention persist from that first issue until today: The Talk of the Town, Goings On, and Profiles—a one-pager on Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the impresario of the Metropolitan Opera. (Other departments—Say It with Scandal, Of All Things, and the high-society notes of In Our Midst—were more short-lived.) A chain-smoking, ulcer-inflicting worrier and genius, Ross did not ignore the details. As he wrote to a colleague, “I am forced to acknowledge that we carried an ad for a belching preventative two or three weeks ago, but that was because the advertising manager was asleep.”

And yet, for all his eagle-eyed attention, Ross could not have anticipated all the ways in which his inky corner of the world would change. He and his contemporaries relied solely on paper and the U.S. mail for reproduction and distribution. Since 2001, however, The New Yorker has also meant, a Web site, which has grown immensely, in audience and in substance, particularly in the past few years. And there is now more change on the digital front—in appearance, content, and access.
We've already jumped to the change in access-- or, rather, changes, since there are both summer and fall-and-beyond versions.

With regard to appearance, well, has changed everything, and I can report that my initial attempt to find things -- like this "Note to Our Readers," which I'd already read -- weren't easy. To put it another way: It appears that those of us who have learned to find stuff, more or less, on the old, get to start from scratch, more or less. I guess this is just the price we should expect to have to pay for having figured out how to find what we're looking for, more or less.

Officially, though, here's what's happening:
This week, has a new look. On a desktop, on a tablet, on a phone, the site has become, we believe, much easier to navigate and read, much richer in its offerings, and a great deal more attractive. For months, our editorial and tech teams have been sardined into a boiler room, subsisting only on stale cheese sandwiches and a rationed supply of tap water, working without complaint on intricate questions of design, functionality, access, and what is so clinically called “the user experience.”
Well, I guess this will all work out over time, more or less. I learned how to use the old, and I suppose I'll learn how to use the new one. It's not as if my time is worth anything.

As for the change in content:
The Web site already publishes fifteen original stories a day. We are promising more, as well as an even greater responsiveness to what is going on in the world. For instance, in addition to Daily Comment, which usually concerns itself with political matters, we will also feature a Daily Cultural Comment, a regular column in which our critics and other writers confront everything from the latest debates over the impact of technology to the latest volume from Chicago, Oslo, or Lima and the ongoing sagas of Don Draper, Daenerys Targaryen, and Hannah Horvath.
Yeah, okay, I guess. As I've noted here, I like some of the online-only content that has been providing. Maybe more of it will be better.
The print version of The New Yorker is still a fine technology (try rolling up your iPad; and don’t drop it too often!), but more advanced technology has some distinct advantages. Publishing beyond the printed page allows us to present the gift of greater immediacy, the ability to respond to events when we have something to say; the site offers podcasts, video, interactive graphics, and slide shows of photographs and cartoons. The new design also allows us to reach back and highlight work from our archives more easily. Beginning this week, every story we’ve published since 2007 will be available on, in the same easy-to-read format as the new work we’re publishing. Over the summer, we’ll also provide a sampling of many of the older pieces that our readers keep asking for—including short stories by Alice Munro and Junot Díaz, Janet Flanner on Isadora Duncan, Calvin Trillin on the crime reporter Edna Buchanan, and Mark Singer on the magician Ricky Jay. We’ve also asked our writers to recommend favorite stories from the past, and those selections will be featured on the site and on social media throughout the summer.
Again, okay, I guess. Certainly "the ability to respond to events when we have something to say" is a real thing. I've shared a fair amount of content that came from regular New Yorker contributors writing on the website to take advantage of its obviously superior timeliness. Whether I'm really prepared to spend more time on the website remains to be seen; I probably already miss interesting online-only content because I just don't have time to trawl for it.

A final point—and, arguably, the most important. Publishing the best work possible remains our aim. Advances in design and technology are tools in that effort. In all forms—digital and paper—we intend to publish in the same spirit of freedom, ambition, and accuracy as Harold Ross did when he prowled the halls nearly ninety years ago, the latest model of pencil stuck behind his prominent left ear. 
Yeah, right, okay. (It's not like I have a say in the matter.)

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