(NOW WITH UPDATES) Because that’s what your magazine needs. Not “improvement.” Unfucking. Let’s not mince words. They pretty much all suck. I can’t think of one that doesn’t. (And don’t say [U.S.] Wired, because the magazine and the Web site are two separate entities. Actually, that is a model right there.)

You aren’t publishing a “magazine Web site.” You are publishing a Web site. What does your site need to do?

Think the unthinkable

You need to do what the Times is doing and actively prepare for a future in which the print edition has ceased to exist. Accepting second-best for the Web site is a recipe for disaster even if that iceberg seems a long way away right now.

Do what works. Don’t do what doesn’t work

Great artists steal. My advice in general is to do what we know works and not do what we know doesn’t work. (This should be self-evident but isn’t.) Or, stated another way, look at whatever Toronto Life is doing and do the opposite.

  1. Finances

    While a Web site and a print magazine need to be largely decoupled, their finances aren’t going to be. It would help the whole enterprise if you pulled a Monocle and seriously increased subscription prices. Doubling them would be a good start and tripling isn’t a bad idea. (No more discounts. A discount is an apology.) As with Monocle, treat subscribers like investors and they’ll start acting that way. Single-copy price at newsstands needs to at least double.

  2. Advertising

    Start your own online ad network modelled after the Deck. (Or just sublicense the Deck.) Sell fewer and better-targetted ads across more publications and charge more for them. No crappy Google AdWords.

  3. Redesign

    Hire a real Web designer, not a hack, to provide typography and interaction design for the site. No Flash, no geegaws, no nonsense, just actual HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Permanently divorce Web and print design, but learn from the mistakes of Wired and don’t just serve up styled text online.

    Importantly, design for immersive reading. You publish longform articles, which people don’t like to read off a screen. You can file the edges off that reluctance with an immersive-reading mode, or several. You also need a viable print CSS.


    To the extent you want comments at all, which is debatable on a good day, do what the most successful forum on the Web – MetaFilter – does. In fact, clone them exactly: Charge five bucks for lifetime membership, force new members to wait a day to comment or post, require use of real names (at least on profile pages), and above all start up a Meta* forum to discuss the site itself.

    Set guidelines, not rules, and for heaven’s sake don’t be afraid to enforce them. It’s your site, not the mob’s.

  5. Stay off the bandwagon

    Twits love Twitter but it will go south one day, as every other social-networking site has done. Don’t treat Twitter as a faux-RSS. Use it, if only begrudgingly, as a way to volley short aperçus back and forth. I have some ideas for Facebook, but don’t invest too much in that site because it too will die a slow death someday. (It always happens.)

    Concentrate on the Web site you control. Don’t put too much effort into sites other people control, because not only will they fade into oblivion, somebody there might just pull the plug on you. It happens.

    But the evidence shows that ancillary podcasts work well for print magazines (and MetaFilter, actually), so start one of those, with transcripts.

  6. Publish everywhere

    One of the myriad benefits of good code is mutability into other formats. A properly-engineered site can be reasonably refactored into ePub, the standard E-book format. That means you can sell articles or the entire magazine on services like Shortcovers and the Kindle (the latter has complications). You need explicit authorization to do this from outside authors and they have to get a cut.

Of course this is about The Walrus

Of course the foregoing is the vegan meat substitute of my application for the low-paying job of online editor at The Walrus, which needs all the help it can get.

You now know everything important I have proposed to a magazine that is actively hiring. Did you put your name in as well? You ostensibly “know as much as I do” because I have just “given away the store.”

But do you really think you could implement all this, or any of it? Somehow I doubt it.

Special update for haters:
These are people who cannot insert one single link

(2009.12.20) David Eaves wanted a link to his post added to the online version of a story. (He explained that the link economy is how Web journalism works. That’s one way to say it, and he’s broadly correct. But don’t follow his practice of using “click here”–style links.)

Now, what was The Walrus’s response? “We don’t go in and insert links into our magazine pieces because we don’t have the resources.” Then why the fuck did you hire an online editor and second an intern for that editor? And Eaves wasn’t asking for multiple links everywhere; he was asking for just one link, which The Walrus couldn’t manage. They did manage a tendentious and self-serving blog post.

Here’s an idea: Wouldn’t it be a good place to start to recruit writers who hand in copy in HTML instead of senior citizens who somehow delude themselves that MS Word is a valid composition medium? Mm?

As at newspapers and J-school, these are people from another century. As I told The Walrus, a magazine gets the online editor it deserves.

Additional update

Last night (2010.03.25) I dropped by the soirée of the BookNet Canada Technical Forum, which was all I could manage since BookNet refused to issue me a press pass. (Did you even know the event happened? Of course not: There were no press there.) I chatted with an adorable scamp who identified himself as working for The Walrus. His female colleague was eventually able to guess my name and conveniently had to walk away to refresh her drink. As I explained to the scamp, as ever in Toronto they’d prefer to just drive the business into a ditch than take the advice of somebody whose attitude they don’t like.

Incidentally, I revealed to these two a plain, simple fact: I have read every issue of The Walrus.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.09.03 12:05. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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