Access to SN website: $20; How much it matters: Zilcho

Perhaps the biggest news whilst I was gone was the SN’s renewed promise/threat to throw up a subscribers-only barrier in front of their web content (the NYT just announced its own subscription model recently … so who says the SN isn’t with it?). I think sgmblog
gets it mostly right here, but for the sake of variety, I’ll take a slightly different tack: For the SN, this is exactly the right move. The SN’s way of doing bidness and its collective habit of mind are not well suited to the general openness of the internet. The magazine seems to run mostly on a presumption of entitlement (which breeds sloppiness: take a look at that press release about Gaither going to the SGMA Hall of Fame … in my spare time, I’ve been rereading it to see how many new grammatical errors I can find it … it’s like shooting fish in a barrel) and hypersensitivity to the kind of criticism and comment that arises when what you write becomes part of a larger conversation. And by and large the SN seems to prefer to pronounce rather than participate in discussions. But the world
wide web necessarily makes what you say and publish online part of a larger discussion whose afterlife you simply can’t control. The SN has historically been the pacesetter in sg media by dint of being the only act in town … until the internet came along. And now, indignity of indignities, the “official” voice of sg has to duke it out with a bunch of blogging schmoes, pontificating message-board babblers, and a general rabble of commoners who may or may not even bother anymore to pony up for a subscription to the SN. In this context, making the website subscription-only seems about right.

Dead-tree magazines have historically had a hard time figuring out how to have an online presence without gutting their publications of relevance or essentially moving to a web-based format entirely. The most widely accepted approach is to put a few bits from the monthly mag online for free (thus we get Jerry Kirksey’s commentaries online that are published in the mag), toss in a few low-overhead web-only extras (the alliterative blogs from Jerry and Danny and Ken Kirksey’s lately neglected Off the Shelf), and call it a day. The SN, though, is in a particularly nasty tangle. Unlike other monthly magazines that focus on commentary and features and other big-picture stuff not pegged to day-to-day events, the SN also stakes a big part of its reputation on the NEWS, the daily comings and goings of industry activity. Before the web, this approach didn’t pose much of a problem since there was only the occasional trickle of sg news onto sg radio to compete with the SN: we took what the SN gave us when they gave it to us and that was that. Now, it’s whole new shootin’ match. Though there are a larger percentage (easily still a majority, I’d guess) of sg fans who aren’t internet users, the SN has to see the inexorable trend toward the digitalization of the news enterprise as a real problem going forward. I don’t think it will take as long for sg to become digitized as it did for sg to give up cassettes, which means in roughly 5-10 years, not only will the NEWS enterprise of the SN’s domain but also it’s softball profiles and other features (chart, classifieds, concert listings) be seriously challenged by one or more online rivals who can bank on increasing influence as a new generation or two of sg fans gets online. To some extent, this is already happening. The only reason it isn’t cutting into SN’s core product is because a preponderance of fans are still old media types. This won’t last forever.

In the meantime, a subscription-only access to the SN’s website really makes very little difference: the unique content on is largely given over to deathwatches and updates on the sick, ill, weak, aged, infirm, and newborn. In the cases where the SN breaks something really big, fair use means the news will be all over the web long before it’s in the magazine. Which is how it works now anyway. The only thing missing after June 6 will a free link to the bit in question. Hard to see how anyone but the SN loses out in this bargain.

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