Sunday, February 12, 2006

The implications of Office Pirates

Reading the Wall Street Journal's article on Time Inc.'s expected launch of Office Pirates, an online 'zine aimed especially at the male office worker, a couple of things struck me that editors might want to think about:

  • Time is eschewing the usual promotion routes in favor of what appears to be a guerrilla marketing, word-of-mouth approach. (Although one doubts this will be the low-budget approach of true guerrilla marketing.) As Brian Steinberg writes: "Gossip sites Gawker and Defamer, and political blogs Daily Kos and Instapundit, became popular through word of mouth rather than glitzy corporate rollouts. On the Internet, being associated with a mainstream media company like Time Warner isn't necessarily a plus." But this also puts a premium on content, which means more pressure on editors.
  • Steinberg also writes that the strategy "should please advertisers who increasingly believe it's better for consumers to discover products, ideas and information rather than have such things foisted upon them. Again, consider the editorial implications. How many editors are still struggling with moving from the pronouncement to the news-as-conversation mode, a parallel to the discover vs. foist construct?
  • And finally, he notes that, "Rather than getting them to purchase regular Web ads, Time Inc. is seeking a company or several to sponsor the site in some fashion. Again, implications: One of the unstated operational modes of many news orgainzations has been "divide and conquer" in this respect -- if your ad base is diversified enough, no one advertiser acquires enough power to deprive you of editorial control. But if Time is successful with this model, will it spread? And if so, what are the implications; if the advertising base for your editorial product concentrates, does it naturally produce sacred cows?
But, you say, this sounds like it's more likely to be an entertainment site -- more an online version of Maxim (former Maxim editor Mark Golin is leading the project) than an online version of the New York Times. That misses the point, I think. The Web is infusing more production and entertainment values into news, whether we like it or not. (Let's face it, there probably are some Maxim readers/Web users who would put it under their "news" category, just as many young people put "The Daily Show.") If this model works for Time, others looking for ways to make money on the Web will take notice. After all, how many really pure "news" organizations really exist anymore -- and can they afford to?


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