[Marxism] Internet con men ravage publishing

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Mar 13 07:47:39 MDT 2012

This New England Blog
John R. MacArthur: Internet con men ravage publishing
March 12, 2012 4:48 pm


John R. MacArthur is publisher of Harper's Magazine and a monthly 
contributor to The Providence Journal, among other publications. 
This essay is one of this year's Delacorte Lectures at the 
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The Delacorte 
Lectures, presented each week in the spring semester, examine 
aspects of magazine journalism by a leader in the field of 
magazine publishing.

Long before I took myself off Facebook, I doubted the so-called 
revolutionary potential of the Internet. In part my viewpoint was 
formed early on by the annoying smugness of the pre-crash dot.com 
"entrepreneurs," who always seemed to be murmuring initial public 
offering nonsense at a table next to mine in tony restaurants.

I recall one such occasion in the year 2000 when Lewis Lapham, 
then editor of Harper's Magazine, and I were dining in indirectly 
lit luxury, somewhere near San Francisco on our promotion tour to 
celebrate the magazine's 150th anniversary.

Lewis was born skeptical, but when he heard the three men at the 
next table discussing in hushed tones what sounded like easy 
money, he couldn't help himself and he inquired about how we could 
get in on the ground floor. "It depends," said one of them 
smoothly, "on what kind of platform you want to establish, how you 
want to present your content." I said that I wanted to publish a 
magazine filled with sentences, not build a tree house, and the 
conversation came to an abrupt halt.

This is not to say that there wasn't easy money to be had during 
the first dot.com boom. For a while, full-rate ads were flying in 
over the transom to Harper's from fine, established institutions 
such as Ask Jeeves, Wine shopper.com, and Altavista.com -- so much 
so that in 2000 we enjoyed the best advertising year, in terms of 
revenue, in my time at the magazine.

It didn't last, of course, and I won't waste your time describing 
the bust and the insanity that preceded it - better for you to 
read James Ledbetter's "Starving to Death on $200 million: The 
Short Absurd Life of the Industry Standard,'' if you want to get a 
really good flavor of the time.

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