Esquire.com, until recently the neglected digital stepbrother of the seminal men’s mag, is finally catching up with the times: with their August issue, readers no longer have to pay to read back issues.
Is this big news? Well, kind of. Traditional print media still tends towards cautious indifference when it comes to the Web. Vogue and W, two of Conde Nast’s flagship brands, share a single site (Style.com) – two completely different brands jammed together out of disinterest. Hearst, for its part, is no better, leasing out its brand names to third parties like iVillage and leaving sites for titles like Cosmopolitan mere placeholders for subscription forms…
So this move by Esquire, also owned by Hearst, does represent a change, albeit a minor one. The magazine handed its back issue articles over to KeepMedia, which posts content from over 200 publications. Aside from the perhaps questionable practice of putting one’s brand under the stewardship of another company, the strategy was bad for customers who had to pay separately for the Internet version – there was no reprieve for subscribers – the same article you just read on glossy paper with great photos and design cost you $3 to read in plain text online.
As a customer I found that infuriating. By nature I’m a bit of a packrat. One of the things I love most about the Internet is it houses all the information I would otherwise have to keep – like Esquire articles I might re-read. But I wasn’t about to throw away more money on a product that I had already paid for. So you can imagine my excitement at the thought of unloading years’ worth of magazines that had been lying around the house.
But at a time, when even the record companies have accepted the inevitable digital future, is this measure enough? There are, after all, a slew of free digital magazines like Slate and Salon (and others that don’t start with “s”) that are tailored specifically for the Web. And there’s other mediums, like vlogs, that are even more net-centric. Is it too little, too late?