Letter from the Editor

We're Changing

From the Editor: Technology Review and the future of publishing

  • This letter appeared in the December 2005/January 2006 issue.
  • by Jason Pontin
  • December 12, 2005

This issue of Technology Review represents a departure. Oh, it looks much the same, I know. And save a few, largely cosmetic changes, it is the magazine you are accustomed to reading. As has been our custom since 1899, we describe emerging technologies and analyze their likely impact. Indeed, if readers find any alteration in our pages, they might note a stricter policing of that mission: we have eliminated coverage of technology business and financing because surveys suggested that you didn’t want it.

But observant subscribers will have noticed that they did not receive an issue of Technology Review in November. More, anyone who visited technologyreview.com on November 4 saw an entirely new website. The events are related. We are becoming a very different kind of publisher.

The details are described for subscribers, advertisers, and the MIT alumni in letters attached to the December/January issue. In brief, we will print the magazine half as often, although existing subscribers will receive as many issues as they are owed. Our website will now post three news analysis stories a day, and also offer blogs, text-to-speech audiocasts, RSS feeds, and a variety of media like Flash. Content that is only available online will be free; premium content will be available to subscribers and the MIT alumni.

Why these changes? Why mess with a good thing? In September, the board of Technology Review, Inc., asked me to take on the additional responsibilities of publisher. They encouraged me to consider innovative solutions to some of the difficulties of contemporary publishing.

The Internet has discomforted many industries, but traditional publishing is particularly unhappy. Readers (especially young readers) are spending more time online: increasingly, they want their information to be timely, searchable, personalized, and part of a social network. At the same time, advertisers are spending more money on interactive media: they are demanding efficiency, accountability, and a measurable return on their investments. The former’s preferences would matter less were it not that the latter has sponsored the costs of print publication. Thus, at the very time when the costs of acquiring and retaining print readers are growing, when hiring the writers, editors, and designers has seldom been so expensive, publishers face the contraction of advertising revenues.

These trends have affected almost all publications except celebrity and fashion magazines. Even scholarly journals or publications like the Economist with relatively little advertising face an increasing demand from their readers for electronic publication. In short, the time when publishers could rely on print magazines is finished.

But the realignment of the publishing industry has hit Technology Review very hard. In part, this is because our technologically savvy readers and advertisers are unusually attracted to the Web; in part, it is because we are an independent company, unattached to any larger media company, and therefore unprotected by any economies of scale. Whatever the reason, our numbers told a stark story: our print circulation and advertising revenues were falling.

Online, though, was something else. Even though our website did little more than republish magazine stories, more people visited it every month than read our print publication: in one year, millions of people were reading stories on technologyreview.com. And online advertising, while still relatively small, was growing faster than we could manage: sometimes, advertisers demanded more impressions than we could deliver.

With the encouragement of MIT (which owns Technology Review), we have done what many publishers yearn to do, but dare not: we have turned our business upside down. Technology Review has been a print magazine with a website; from now on, we will be an electronic publisher that also prints a magazine.

To be clear: we love print. Most people still prefer to see longer, investigative stories or colorful photographs in a magazine. And we still receive more revenue from print than online advertising. So we will continue to publish a thoughtful and beautiful magazine. But we know the future of Technology Review is also electronic and interactive.

Please visit our new website and see what Brad King, the site’s Web producer and senior editor, and Wade Roush, its editor, have made. If you read Technology Review because we write with unembarrassed geekiness and intelligence about emerging technologies, you’ll find the same thing online every day. Once you’ve visited, write to me at jason.pontin@technologyreview.com and tell me what you think.

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