Sunday, March 25, 2007

InfoWorld blazes a print-free path

PaidContent is reporting that weekly magazine InfoWorld is about to shutter its print edition.
I haven't seen a confirmation yet from parent company IDG. But I have no reason to doubt the news. What started as a report in Sam Whitmore's newsletter (sorry, the story is available only to subscribers), then spread across the blogosphere, now appears to be true.
And I for one am thrilled.

I don't mean to belittle the pain that some on the InfoWorld staff will feel. It's likely that a small number of folks will be laid off. (Rafat at PaidContent says his source reports that "there won’t be too many layoffs as most of the team had been working on multiplatform already: print, online and events.")
But even one layoff is painful. Heck, I lost a gig last week after stepping into the middle of a nasty bit of office politics. And I had given up two other paying gigs to take on that assignment. So believe me when I say to anyone who is about to lose a job at InfoWorld: "I feel your pain."
Heck, even those who keep their jobs at InfoWorld will feel some pain. No matter how we look at the changes in media, it's clear that part of what is happening must be described as "loss." InfoWorld, the magazine, existed. Soon it will not. So something is lost.

But something is gained, too.
And it's more than the business opportunities offered to a magazine brand that transitions to the new era of connection, conversation and containerless content.
What is gained is a trail to follow, and vindication for the trailblazers.

Allow me to explain.
IDG is a client. And in the past few years I've had numerous opportunities to speak with the journalists and publishers of that company. Some of those conversations have been one-to-one. But most have been speaking gigs. I'd stand at the front of a room. They would sit. And we'd talk about the future.
And at IDG -- as is true of every single place I've spoken in the past five years -- most of the audience could be divided into two groups. One group consisted of those who were excited about the future. The second group consisted of those who saw the future solely as a possible threat to their present.
At IDG, the first group was larger than it was at some other companies. But even at IDG, a company that many folks would describe as visionary, there were always a few folks in the second group.
The Group Two folks always sat together (they always knew their compatriots, even those from other magazines). And they spent an enormous amount of energy rolling their eyes whenever anyone appeared excited about what the Web meant for journalism.
The Group One folks were most noticeable for how they reacted after I finished my speech. They had tons of questions. And many of those questions involved the people in Group Two. "How do we get them excited?" "How can we help them learn multimedia skills?" "How can we make them less afraid?"
And therein is the key -- while the folks in Group Two were interested only in protecting what they had; the folks in Group One were interested in helping Group Two to adapt.

The advice I gave to the kindly folks in Group One was to ignore the laggards and slow wits of Group Two. (Although on bad days I've advocated murder.) I told the people in Group One to move ahead on their own. Clear a path. Create a trail of your own. And in the end, when you have reached a clearing and the road behind you is free of obstructions, you'll find the folks in Group Two will follow -- still complaining, but at least moving forward.

In the past few days I've watched a handful of cowboy movies. That's not a typical activity of mine. And I'm not sure what it's about, but it's probably related to the recent anniversary of my father's death. He loved the cowboy movies.
And if you watch enough cowboy movies, you start to picture the world as a cowboy movie.
So today I see the staff at InfoWorld as scouts on horseback. They have moved further than many would have dreamed possible. They have reached a clearing. The clearing is not their final destination. But it's a place quite different from where they started.
And they have sent word back to the rest of settlers. And now everyone, even the folks riding mules and donkeys, are on the road.

Matt McAlister is an InfoWorld alumni. He says that somebody at IDG "had to step forward, and InfoWorld is as well positioned to make that transition as anybody."
Scott Karp also sees InfoWorld as leading the way for the rest of the publishing industry, but that "of course, there’s a big gap between a B2B magazine making the transition and a local newspaper making it across the chasm. But we’ve got to start somewhere."

Thanks to Rex for tipping me to the InfoWorld news first. Rex tracks the industry so I don't have to.

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1 comment:

Rex Hammock said...

My "tracking the industry" is merely a trick I do with mirrors.