Jann Wenner Ain’t Sold on the Web for Everything

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal Advertising Report featured an interview with publishing vet, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone fame. One Q&A in particular was especially interesting:

WSJ: Transforming magazines into digital properties seems to be all the rage, since advertisers are more interested in the niche audiences magazines deliver than the paper on which their articles are printed. In this vein, what’s worth more — the Rolling Stone brand that can be repurposed around different media formats or Rolling Stone magazine?

Wenner: Well, they are both worth a lot….I’ve always felt the trick is not to replicate the magazine on the Web, but to add to the magazine and do things on the Web site that the magazine itself can’t do. There is a lot of information — underlying stories, tour dates, more sets of record reviews. There are audio and visual components that we do that work on a Web site. The trick is to figure out what the Web does better, and let it do that, and then see what the role of the magazine is and what the magazine does better.

There is a lot that the magazine does better, particularly for certain kinds of advertisers who are interested in visual display. Cars are sold that way. Fashion is sold that way. Soft drinks are sold that way. Most of our key categories are sold with visual imagery. Those people who need to get a lot of data to a consumer — like warranty information, or where it makes sense to offer an opportunity to choose different colors and styles of a particular product — the Web does that great. We are kind of seeing a fad kind of reaction right now. It will all balance out, and those magazines that figure out how to make their Web product good and how to make it relate back to what’s on that magazine page will be very successful.
It’s not that difficult a trick….If you go back, you’ll remember the first attempts for magazine companies on the Web were simply to replicate the magazine on the Web. Millions of dollars were poured into that by certain publishing companies who made a clear mistake.

A lot of Web video or Flash evangelists may disagree with Wenner when he implies that print sells certain categories like cars and fashion better than, say, video ads might. But I wholeheartedly agree with him that creating a complementary component to a print magazine, rather than simply replicating a print magazine online, is the way to go. I also appreciate that he realizes that people still appreciate print.

I, for one, read his interview in my print copy of The Journal, and wouldn’t have it any other way. The Journal, along with other smart publications, is getting this crossover thing. For instance, the paper has been including a sponsored section listing the Online Journal’s daily Web-only features.

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