Perspective. Gaining some, having it in the first place, keeping it... the end of a calender year or an anniversary in business or relationships makes us reflect. We look backward in time. We renew or adapt our perspective - on where we've been, and how those efforts might project themselves into the future.
As Marc Mickelson proudly recounts in this month's SoundStage! Editorial, that site has just passed its 10-year mark. If you're into online publishing -- and specifically, audio review online publishing -- this is a very significant achievement and occasion to renew perspective. Has it only/already been 10 years? Taking stock of US/Canadian-based webzines who owe their existence to the precedent set by Doug Schneider and Marc Mickelson of the SoundStage Network -- EnjoyTheMusic, Audiophilia, StereoTimes, Positive Feedback Online, Dagogo, ourselves and others -- acknowledgments, respect and gratitude are due.
Arguably single-handedly, these two gents pioneered the concept and took its humble hobbyist origins into the business arena. This launched what -- now a decade later and by how it has forever altered the landscape -- has become the counter establishment to the print media (and arguably even had a part in the demise of certain print magazines which are no longer with us). Do you wonder why any number of high-profile writers previously associated with Audio, Stereo Review, Listener, Fi and others haven't resurfaced under their own flag if web-publishing -- based on the sheer number of current offerings -- appears like such an easy self-start alternative? Perhaps it's because it's anything but easy? Consider the following.
Unless you're a trust-fund baby, are supported by a significant other (or if you have already made your killing to eventually reemerge from early retirement), operating a web publication as a business requires one rather enormous leap of faith and commitment. Sooner or later, you have to do it full-time if you have any ambitions to grow beyond the occasional skinny newsletter. At that point, you have to rely solely on your publishing venture to pay for personal and business expenses. Chances are, you'll have to take the risk well in advance of any actual proof that the risk was reasonable to embrace in the first place. It is this very practical requirement that explains why nobody else outside the present status quo has yet been crazy enough to turn audio-related web publishing into a full-time, all-stops-pulled enterprise.
Then consider that the present model of web publishing puts the sole financial burden on the manufacturers. It is their ad sponsorships which afford readers free 24/7 access. Anyone who complains about $1/issue subscriptions for Stereophile needs his head examined or be slapped real hard to wake up. Unless readers were prepared to commit to, say $30 fees per issue/month to enjoy their favorite print or online magazines, the economic reality means that someone has to pay for the time and expertise required to generate credible, enjoyable and good-looking content regardless of format. The scapegoats for this thankless task are the very manufacturers who also make the things we write about and which you listen to.
Next combine an audio publication's reliance -- on ad-driven revenues to remain alive in this business model -- with the struggling market its manufacturers find themselves in. Then add the large number of cyber publications who already tap into the same pool. It's no wonder that Michael Fremer's e-zine isn't a full-time venture, that no "big-name" writers have launched their own outfits yet or that perhaps Wes Phillips eventually returned to print. As Marc Mickelson addresses, one aspect of web publishing is the fact that it has driven the participation costs of effective advertising way down compared to what traditional print ads charge. Have you ever linked from a web banner to a sponsor's website to see a URL other than the home page appear for a split second in your browser? That's a tracking key. It helps that advertiser assess hit referrals. Nothing like that exists in print. On the web, an advertiser who already pays far lower rates than he would on paper enjoys an additional advantage. He can generate hard, unequivocal performance specs for each of his ad campaigns. Forget sell-thru figures based on stacks of magazines that are given away for free or sent out on comp lists. Forget that "x-number of readers will see your ad". It's become about "how many readers actually did something about seeing my ad and visited my site from yours? If each referral to my site costs me $2, I'm cancelling my contract."
Lastly, recognize that e-zine banners compete with Google ads for penetration and referrals. If you consider the sheer size differential between even a successfully established webzine and Google, it takes no genius to predict that banner tracking competition is fierce. For a realistic perspective, readers of any audio magazines (and particularly webzines that are completely free) shoulder a huge and ongoing burden of gratitude to the advertisers who keep their favorite websites in operation.
In conclusion, since the revenue stream of most web publications is far smaller and less reliable than print where ad tracking doesn't exist, resources for proof reading, professional editing, photography, graphics and advertising departments, legal assistance and salaries follow suit. Chances are, your regular webzine's staffers are each wearing multiple hats at once or one guy does it all. The 10-year anniversary of SoundStage! shows that regardless, all these challenges can be met very professionally and in ways its owners -- one imagines at least -- still consider more rewarding than doing something else by now.
With the late launches of PFO and 6moons, all these precedents and what they seem to suggest might compel someone else to author yet another web publication. Two in fact just recently have gone live on the web. They will all be judged by the precedents set by SoundStage! They will all owe its owners a debt for developing and then refining the entire concept and category called online audio review publishing. At least that's my personal perspective on this matter (and I owe a further debt seeing how SoundStage! gave me a start in audio reviewing).
So it's been 10 years already? Wow. To say that the Internet has exploded during this decade is no exaggeration. To say that its rise has spawned wholesale expectations of "something for nothing" (free content, preferably of high quality and professional presentation) is putting it mildly. If readers belabor the reality that because of it, advertisers have to finance such magazines, they need to stop cold in their tracks and look closely into the mirror. Would you continue to visit 6moons or any of the other free audio sites if all of us began to password-protect our sites to bill your credit card on a monthly basis for access? If you answer "no", thank our and everyone else's sponsors for continuing to pay for your reading materials. Otherwise your perspective on this subject is sorely backwards. From the bottom of my heart, a great big thank you to each and every advertiser who was, will be or is currently directly responsible for 6moons and all the other audio sites remaining "on the air". Without your hard cash, none of us would be here. Really and truly and damn!