The 2008 Media Inflection: Meet Dr. Web, the New Gorilla

[edited 2009.01.15 to add link to DDJ’s announcement]

2008 was quite a year, full of landmark events that were certainly historic, if not always welcome.

If I had to pick one technology-related highlight from the past year, it would be this: A notable inflection point in the ongoing shift from traditional media to the web. Given that that tide is still in progress, why single out 2008? I think we’ll look back at 2008, especially the fourth quarter, as a turning point when the web became an A-list media outlet and first started to beat up, and even replace, major legacy competitors in newspapers, technical magazines, movies, and TV. An inflection point, if you will, where the web clearly stopped being the pencil-necked upstart, and visibly emerged as the new gorilla flexing its advertising-revenue-pumped-up muscles and kicking sand on the others.

In 2008, and particularly in the last month, the web began to outright replace some existing newspapers and technology and programming magazines.

  • December 2008: The first two major city newspapers go web-only or web-mostly. The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press announced truncated print editions and reduced print delivery. Newspapers in several other cities seem likely to follow fairly soon.
  • As of January 2009: PC Magazine is going “digital only.” After the January issue, the print magazine will disappear. Instead, the content will appear exclusively on the web.
  • As of January 2009: Dr. Dobb’s Journal is permanently suspending print publication and going web-only. Some of the content will be available as a new “Dr. Dobb’s Report” section of InformationWeek. My Effective Concurrency column will continue, and I’ll continue to blog when new columns go live on the web, so if you’re reading the column via this blog nothing will significantly change for you.

As of next month, the only major technical programmer’s trade magazines still available in print, that I know of, are platform- and technology-specific ones like asp.netPRO and MSDN Magazine — and even those increasingly feature online-only content. For example, from MSDN Mag’s January 2009 editor’s note:

As we continue to grow our coverage to keep pace with the rapidly expanding set of technologies, we will often offer content exclusively online at msdn.microsoft.com/magazine. So please check in frequently!

Gotta love RSS (and Atom etc.): Every text feed is like a magazine or newspaper column, every blogger a columnist. Every audio/video podcast feed is like a radio or TV series, or a radio station or TV channel. And our feed reader is the new magazine/newspaper, as we subscribe to columnists to make our personal custom newsmagazine. But RSS readers, along with RSS-consuming clients like iTunes, are more — they’re our personal selection, not only of the columns we want to read (on whatever topics we want, including the funnies section), but also of the media we want to hear and watch. It’s increasingly our way to choose the text, audio, and video we want all together. Who knew that a large chunk of the coming media convergence would come in the shape of RSS readers?

And other media are feeling the pressure from Dr. Web, the new gorilla:

  • This week (late December 2008), even cable operator Time Warner pushed web delivery for TV. Time Warner has had various contract disputes with Viacom and some local stations. But as part of the dispute:
      Time Warner will respond to Viacom’s advertisement, [Time Warner spokesman] Mr. Dudley said, by highlighting the availability of television content on the Internet.

      “We will be telling our customers exactly where they can go to see these programs online,” Mr. Dudley said. “We’ll also be telling them how they can hook up their PCs to a television set.”

  • During October-December 2008, Netflix’s Watch Instantly has started to turn into a juggernaut. It’s interesting enough that you can watch 12,000+ movies and TV shows streamed over the net to your PC at high quality. As of October 2008, you can get them on your Mac. As of November 2008, on your Xbox. As of December 2008, on your TiVo. As noted in one recent article:
      “It’s a good strategic move,” said Andy Hargreaves, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities. “Netflix sees the world will go digital, no matter what they do. They realize there is more to be lost by waiting than doing it early.”

And I won’t even get started on SaaS: hosted rich GUI apps served up on the web, for example the December 2008 (again) announcement about Office Online.

Yes, don’t forget 2008, especially December 2008: The month the first major newspapers moved mostly to the web and abandoned print at least partly; the month that PC Magazine and Dr. Dobb’s suspended print publication and went web-only; the month Netflix Watch Instantly arrived in the living room on TiVos after hitting Xboxes a fortnight before; the month cable provider Time Warner threatened to tell people to watch TV on the net; and the month even Microsoft announced their intent to deliver significant Office web applications.

I for one welcome Dr. Web, our new Gorilla and media overlord!

Besides, what choice do I have?

34 thoughts on “The 2008 Media Inflection: Meet Dr. Web, the New Gorilla

  1. It’s time. Dr. Dobbs was getting thinner and thinner, almost wasting away.

    However, the Dr. Dobbs site, any time you’ve linked to it, was awkward to use and had a bad case of page-view addiction – small slices of text needlessly spread over multiple pages, surrounded by clutter. The result was I hated visiting the site, and stopped reading your linked articles, even though the concurrency stuff is very important and interesting to me.

    I do hope that with their new-found direction and purpose, these outdated fashions can be retired. I’m not terribly hopeful, though, to be frank.

  2. Yes, I had the same frustrations with the DDJ site that you did (plus the color scheme and layout). I’m told that the DDJ site will be revamped considerably, hopefully along the lines of InformationWeek which looks much better IMO and which Dr. Dobb’s Report will now be a part of.

  3. I don’t mind DDJ going digital but I really don’t like the online format they’ve been using (nxtbook or something like that). With my older eyes I need to increase the font size, which means I end up scrolling down then back up for every column of every article. Horrible UI, in my opinion. It really should resize itself for the user’s chosen font size and screen size.

    Other that that I’m glad to do away with yet another source of paper that I just end up throwing away.

  4. No! DDJ is the only paid trade magazine subscription I have left. It is one of two of my subscriptions that use the nxtbook facility for the online editions. Each month I download a copy of their nxtbook and PDF formats for backup purposes, but what I actually read is the print edition. The nxtbook format is far too hideous to actually use. More importantly, my DDJ reading time involves time away from my computer with my feet up. I’m not giving up that time to return to the computer – I spend too much time on the computer as is. If DDJ is abandoning the print edition, then I have to abandon DDJ in favour of other print material. Herb, I love your columns, but I’ve never read a single one of them online. I was already feeling rather cheated by DDJ given the magazine’s ever dwindling tissue-thin thickness. Surely they aren’t thinking they can actually charge money for an online-only edition? I think DDJ has just put a bullet in it’s own head.

  5. In fact, when you view an article, click on the “print” link.
    This does not print it but leads you to a page where the text is in full width. I always read it there.

  6. Well, so much for that.

    I will almost certainly not be renewing my subscription.

    Pity. I’ve been reading DDJ almost since it first started.

  7. Argh! Dr. Dobbs is the only paper-subscription I have. Sometimes it’d good to get away from the computer and read some broader code, there’s no way I’ll ever buy books on all the topics covered in a single magazine.

  8. I’m DDJ suscriptor since 1993. I always read the mag in the bath room, never on the web. What I’m going to do now? :)

    Really like very much the concurrency column. And there are very few interesting columns last years on DDJ.

  9. I’ve been subscribing to DDJ since about 1994/5.

    It gets thinner and thinner. I noticed a particular decline in the magazine after CMP got hold of it (just like with Windows Developer Journal – which they ultimately killed).

    I was most cheesed off when the DDJ website went “subscription only” which meant that if you lived outside the US and received your subscription from a local distributor you did not have access to the articles on the DDJ website.

    Emails to DDJ about how to rectify this went unanswered.

    Finally, I want to read paper not a screen. I read a screen all day at work. When I want to read a tech journal, or a non-tech journal, book, I want to read a book, on paper.

    Consider my subscription cancelled.

    Very, very disappointing.

    Stephen

  10. Hmm… I was in my local Borders on the weekend trying to find a copy of DDJ in print, thinking I might start up a subscription! I guess not then…

    Ben.

  11. I’m sorry to see DDJ go web only — as a long time fan. Actually, unless the statement is about the Windows market only, there’s a mis-statement in this article.

    MacTech Magazine (originally programming on the Mac, but now for all techs on the Mac) is not still in print — and not only that, has had the best year since the dot com days. MacTech this week is at the show this week and has announced:

    * Significant readership growth in print
    * Highest ad revenue since dot com days
    * Significant growth in page count over the last year
    * Significant growth in online unique visitors

    So, it’s not about magazines in general. There were something like 20x more magazines launched in 2008 than there were ones that closed down.

    It’s about specific situations, and giving the readers what they want.

    Thanks,
    Neil Ticktin
    Publisher/Editor-in-Chief
    MacTech Magazine

  12. Neil Ticktin wrote:

    Actually, unless the statement is about the Windows market only, there’s a mis-statement in this article. MacTech Magazine (originally programming on the Mac, but now for all techs on the Mac) is not [only] still in print — and not only that, has had the best year since the dot com days.

    Right, Mactech would be Mac’s rough equivalent of MSDN Magazine. That’s the kind of publication I had in mind when I wrote:

    As of next month, the only major technical programmer’s trade magazines still available in print, that I know of, are platform- and technology-specific ones like asp.netPRO and MSDN Magazine — and even those increasingly feature online-only content.

    The observation was that DDJ was the last general programming print magazine I know of that covered a variety of technologies and platforms.

  13. A web site is a sorry replacement for a print publication. And a bad site, like DDJ, is no replacement for even a beaten-down publication. Thanks, UBM, for murdering still another institution.Not to say CMP/UBM have been alone among publishers in racing to the bottom in an attempt to do everything on the cheap. It’s a societal phenomenon and the publishing manifestation of maximizing short-term profitability for owners has been to use the internet primarily as a cost-cutting tool rather than looking what the best use of the medium would be from an overall business standpoint. Rather than seeking to find synergy between established media and new media, publishers have sucked the life out of their print publications in favor of cheap web postings with the idea that either the print profits will not be damaged in the process or that double dipping on some advertising will offset lost print revenue and circulation. It’s a silly idea that that has repeatedly failed. Not everyone wants to follow print links to the web, and some people can’t. More, if the print publication becomes an elaborate, fee-based ad for a web site, it rapidly becomes a disposable expense for formerly happy readers. Thus the spread of the “free” subscription, which trades demographical information from the subscriber for what increasingly isn’t just advertising supported content but is either largely a print pointer to an ad-driven and often unusable web site or the articles themselves tend to be written by or about advertisers. It’s nauseatingly cynical, but, worse, it’s suicidal. Publishers have whined about market conditions killing them for a few years now, but the harm done to publishing is essentially all self-inflicted.If I weren’t too sick to work, I could make a wagon of money as an anti-MBA teaching these people how not to burst into flames. But it is, alas, too late for DDJ and its geek-mag stablemates. So too for many newspapers, which is for many reasons far more unconscionable.

  14. The interesting difference between MacTech and MSDN Magazine is that MacTech is independent. I don’t know how MSDN Magazine is actually financed today, but I am quite sure that if Microsoft felt the magazine served a purpose other than the magazine’s bottom line, Microsoft would feel no compunctions about propping it up.

    Your larger point, though, stands. I was a long-time DDJ subscriber when I let my sub lapse a few years back. I never made a conscious decision to end my sub, but I do read a ton of web.

  15. It is a bit of a shame this is the 3:d publication CMP cancels (and as always they do so without warning and information) in fact I just renewd my subscription so I hope they will refund me the money). Anyways, the main question: are there any “e-book-readers” that can read the online edition?

    I have been looking into this for quite some time, magazines for me are for reading to/from work, when i am “not at my computer”, so I would gladly accept a digital edition (since I live in Sweden and have to pay quite a lot to get things shipped over here) but I would like to read it offline on the subway to work.

    So are there any e-books someone can recomend me that can read magazines offline?

    // Michael Medin

  16. Forgot to mention that I also read a few of IEEE Computer Societys magazines and that are (AFAIK) still in print. For instance their “Computer Magazine” has a pretty wide variety of articles albeit slightly on the academic side…

    So I doubt DDJ beeing the “last”…

    // Michael Medin

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