harpers_magazine_logoAlex Madrigal, senior editor of The Atlantic, has written an editorial calling out Harper’s publisher John MacArthur for refusing to allow his magazine to have anything to do with the Internet. MacArthur sees the Internet as “a gigantic Xerox machine” through which magazine content would be given away for free, for not much return. MacArthur writes that his ad agency tells him people remember print advertising longer, because they tend to spend more time with print ads than web ads.

Madrigal points to other research showing “the superiority of Web advertising over print advertising in achieving positive brand evaluation,” Advertisers want to buy across platforms, he says, because that’s how people read now.

I do respect one thing about MacArthur’s op-ed: he does truly value writers and their writing. We agree there. But it is *precisely* because I value my writing that I want it to be online and free. I don’t write merely to rub two pennies together; I write because I want to have an impact in the world. I want to work with my community to break stories and tell jokes, to highlight injustice and find better ways of solving problems. That means reaching readers where they are. People’s lives aren’t divided into "offline life" and "online life," even if we’d like to pretend that’s the case. People on Capitol Hill use the Internet. People on Main Street use the Internet. People on Wall Street use the Internet. The Internet is where the action is: it’s where all the elegant, dirty, pretty, lowbrow, brilliant ideas come together to commingle and evolve.

Though Harper’s doesn’t post articles on the web, it is available for the iPad, so clearly MacArthur isn’t afraid to do some digital things with his magazine. And it’s certainly his decision to make. Still, Madrigal points out that The Atlantic is quite profitable on its hybrid web and print magazine strategy. Perhaps at some point MacArthur (or whoever succeeds him as Harper’s publisher) will come around.


  1. I subscribe to a lot of magazines, including The Atlantic (in fact, my subscription runs to 2019), most, if not all, of which have Internet versions to which I am given access as part of my print subscription. Yet I have never gone to the Internet version of any of the magazines to read them (I have used the online version for citing and referring from my blog, but not for my personal reading).

    A couple of times I have tried to read the online versions, but have always found that I haven’t the patience. I prefer to relax and read the paper versions. Reading them online is too much like work and not enough like pleasure to me.

    Of course, my habits are also a reflection of my age (senior citizen) and the fact that my formative years were computer-less — personal computers really didn’t come into “being” for the masses until years after I had already graduated college, by which time my reading habits were set.

    What I dread most is the day when I receive notice that my magazines will no longer be available in print form — they will become Internet only — and I still have years to go in my subscriptions. That has already happened a couple of times (remember PC Magazine?) and I found that I simply stopped reading the magazines and asked for a refund.

  2. You scared me there for a minute. I thought maybe Harper’s had taken down their web site. But no, it’s still there, and I can still grab articles from there. The snag is that it’s only for paid print subscribers—but at no extra charge, where some online periodicals charge separately for print and online access. So I find it hard to understand the claim that Harper’s Magazine is avoiding the internet entirely. What they’re avoiding is the ad-supported web model with full and free content. I think this article is misleading, since it certainly would have misled me if I didn’t have personal knowledge of the issue.

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