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Why Harper’s Magazine avoids the web
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  • March 19, 2012
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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.


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