Rolling Stone Finally Taking Late, Doomed Shot At Online Presence
It must pain Jann Wenner to see his other properties start succeeding where his flagship magazine, Rolling Stone, squandered possibilities and descended into irrelevancy: online. Now that US Weekly‘s site has heat, Wenner’s finally starting to line up RS‘s strategy.
The problems facing Rolling Stone‘s online presence is that, well, they haven’t had one in forever. And since the late 90s, haven’t been necessarily known for covering celebrities, politics, or music particularly in depth, instead trying to spread themselves too thin, editorially. A publication or website full of Matt Taibbis, David Frickes, or celebrity gossips is one thing. Trying to do them all in the same publication is another, and it resulted in the literal and figurative sizing down of the publication.
Now, if you’ll remember, Wenner brought in Steve Schwartz from Reader’s Digest as his, uh, let’s see here…Chief Digital Officer. Great, well then. When Schwartz isn’t commandeering the bridge of the Enterprise, he’s going to be piloting a different kind of ship. The kind that sinks before it can even set sail. Ahoy!
“I think there was the concept of, let’s partner with a company that had experience in this space early on,” said Schwartz, who plans to relaunch the site in January with new community and customisation features. “A lot of companies spent a lot of money in trial and error mode.” That said, he conceded, “It hasn’t evolved nearly as much as we’d like it to.”
Since Schwartz’s hiring and their Unemployment for Christmas layoffs, they’ve made great strides, kinda capitalising on Matt Taibbi’s audience, and…that’s it.
Eight months later, their Twitter is mostly an RSS feed of articles, interspersed with the occasional pieces of news. Even JetBlue’s got a better Twitter. They don’t have a Tumblr, their Facebook presence is mediocre, and their big high tech strategy involves one of the most reviled dinosaurs of the internet. What rhymes with BUFFERING?
Rollingstone.com will have a chance to update its music-listening technology; Wenner is determining if it will continue its partnership with Web music player Rhapsody, a joint venture with RealNetworks, after its relationship with RealNetworks ends.
Hm. Considering I can listen to whatever I want on Spotify, Pandora, or hell, just Googling an album with the extension .rar and searching through Mediafire archives to download it, I would say that giving users the chance to interact with a music player they hate, that’s available anywhere else isn’t the most salient strategy. But this is what Wenner’s spending his time “determining.”
Forget the fact that Rolling Stone’s late to music’s breaking news now (thanks, Brooklyn Vegan) and that their Five Stars mean nothing anymore (thanks, Pitchfork), or that their political rockstar’s still blogging for a political site that has their own writers work their own ad sales.
Remember that Wenner has two sites with pretty solid traffic (People and US Weekly). Remember that Vogue and GQ—two publications of Rolling Stone’s infamy and legacy—are launching online presences, too. And then flash back to Schwartz, who clearly doesn’t understand Wenner’s reluctance:
Schwartz admitted that Rollingstone.com is light on user engagement, which will be a big priority of the site relaunch. “The site that’s out there right now-that whole notion of getting our audience involved in a dialogue is lost,” he said.
It’s pretty evident: the Wenner’s golden goose of ideals and leftist ideology and influencing pop culture has to dignify—and even worse, compete with—the kinds of ragtag operations Rolling Stone was when Wenner first started it. Wenner’s main man Hunter S. Thompson once wrote that “when the going gets weird, the weird get going.” Looks like Rolling Stone was too mainstream and stodgy to get their asses in gear, and for the most part, still are.