Rolling Stone publisher Wenner says rush to iPad born of ‘sheer insanity, insecurity, and fear’

“Nobody mistakes Jann Wenner — whose Wenner Media publishes Rolling Stone, Us Weekly and Men’s Journal — for a digital fanboy. He was lukewarm enough on the internet to let another company license and run from 2003 through 2010. Last year he orchestrated a magazine industry ad campaign promoting the ‘power of print,'” Nat Ives reports for Ad Age.

“But his tentative take on even the iPad may dismay the big publishing powers, which hope tablets will deliver a better kind of digital platform for magazines, one that means significant business in a matter of years,” Ives reports. “He thinks it will be decades. ‘You’re talking about a generation at least, maybe two generations, before the shift is decisive,’ he said.”

Look at the music industry as an example. I think it’s split about 50-50 between CDs and digital delivery. There is a place where there are extraordinary advantages in the distribution delivery system. Otherwise the products are indistinguishable; there’s no difference in the physical products as there is here.

And yet it’s still a generational shift going on. And we [publishers] are far away from that. We have a much different and more unique product than just the CD… The lesson for magazine publishing business is not to rush like the music business should have done, because it’s a different product. Music is really easily reducible to digital. There’s a different beat to it.

Be attuned. Get ready to make the moves. Be adept at moving quickly to the changes. But to rush to throw away your magazine business and move it on the iPad is just sheer insanity and insecurity and fear. – Jann Wenner

Much more in the full article here.


      1. … The New Yorker with our iPad. Really hope to get it working. But … the Boston Globe will continue to grace our doorstep (even while we regularly surf to its stories). Dead Tree editions are far from “dead”. It will be at least one (digital) generation before we can say goodbye to many of them.
        Should I point out that MSFT is apparently on its way to the graveyard? BUT … it will be several more years, perhaps more than a decade, before it can be considered “dead”! Will it be the iPad that finishes that Walking Dead thing off? Wouldn’t surprise me.
        By the way … if you don’t understand how a portion of the stock market works, don’t make any long-term investments there. It’s like giving your money to a total stranger. Buffet understands the “technology” as well as the next guy, maybe better, but not that part of the market – which is wonkier than most other market segments.

  1. He sounds very much like Warren Buffet not willing to invest in tech because he doesn’t know anything about that industry.

    There was no reason for the second paragraph of the article to begin with “But…”. It implied that what followed was to be the opposite (or at least different) from what was stated in the first paragraph (technophobe, unwilling to embrace the new technology). The second paragraph precisely confirmed that.

    The guy is from a different era. He doesn’t understand technology, doesn’t want to have anything to do with it and is smart enough not to publicly dismiss it outright, but to carefully and tactfully acknowledge its possibilities in the future.

    He will watch his media properties follow from the distance, while those who embrace the iPad and the new media will lead.

    1. He sounds very much like Warren Buffet not willing to invest in tech because he doesn’t know anything about that industry.

      A very sensible approach to investing. That approach was also advcated by Peter Lynch, another extremely successful investor, and investment author.

      If you don’t know what you are doing, and there is considerable downside to doing it, then not taking that course of action is certainly prudent.

      1. True, not taking a course of action that you don’t understand is prudent. But cautioning others not to pursue a course of action which you yourself don’t understand is downright silly. Anyone who listens to that kind of advice is a fool.

  2. Rolling Stone ‘dead tree’ edition…

    for those Luddites who like to use dead trees to start charcoal grill fires…

    or line bird cages. whatever.

  3. As someone in publishing, I can tell you that it’s a difficult era for us. In my rural market, print is still king by a long shot. But as demographics shift, there’s no doubt that we’ve got to do more and more digitally.

    In the “old days” you could just do print. Someday, we may only have to do digital. Today, it’s expensive to do both and the waters are unchartered.

    I can say this: People don’t value content the way they used to. The Internet has made people think that information gathering and distribution has no value as if there’s no labor involved. More than political biases (whether real or perceived), this attitude toward professionally culled information is what is dangerous to Democratic societies that need people to be paid to pay attention.

    The day when we’re all just misinformed bloggers and often obnoxious anonymous assholes isn’t Utopia by any stretch, and I hope that professional news agencies can weather this storm by doing a better job of reporting (instead of layoffs and lazy journalism — which sadly seems to be the trend as there’s less money to get the job done right).

    In the meantime, if you value the news/writing/artwork/insightfulness of a particular news agency, pay them for their work as you would a music artist.

    End lecture.

      1. @MidWestMac

        Brilliant. Thanks for saying that. I think the erosion you are seeing in professional journalism is also occurring in many professions.

        I am also seeing this same erosion in computer print. Where true professionals used to write in depth articles on the Art of Programming, today those magazines are being replaced at an alarming rate by “computer bloggers”.

        Most of these bloggers are just people with no real experience but with lots opinions about how things should work in the real world according to some fantasy life they made up. What is even scarier, is that people read this crap and accept it as “authoritative”.

        I believe the true problem runs deep. We’ve been molded since a childhood to believe that anything in print must be accurate and authoritative because in the past growing up, only professionals could print. Today anyone can “print”, and today no matter what we read on the internet our childhood preconceived notions that if you see it in print, it must be good are still being applied.

        This is a deep rooted societal problem that won’t be fixed easily and as a society, we have no ability to discern crap from real journalism. We never had to make those distinction before.

        Growing up, if it was in print, and handed to you in school it most likely was written by a professional who did real research. Unfortunately we still apply that same level of trust to the Web.

        I can’t tell you how many teachers tell the kids not to use Wikipedia because the articles can be written by “Anyone”.

        Do they assume that the whole rest of the internet must have been written by robots !

        We are so confused and it will only get worse.

        1. You really need to expand your minds a little. You are buying into the press version of “Blogger” there are many many independent, “Professional” bloggers with good information, ideas, and thoughts to share.

          “Print” and “Broadcast” media on the other hand are stacked with corporate and partisan shills, all squawking the same drivel. Most of which is used to incite fear, foment hate, increase consumerism, and to propagandize the populace.

          “Real Journalism” is effectively dead, and has been for decades. Disagree? 1 example: Fukashima Japan – right now the worst nuclear disaster our world has yet seen is unfolding, yet the American press has moved on and coverage is sparse to non-existent in the mainstream press. You have to go looking on the net to gather information. Why?

    1. Disagree. Publishers make little on subscriptions. Subscriptions are intended to cover distributions costs. Publishers make money on advertising. If publishers lower costs so they are no prohibitive, they will dramatically increase the number of subscribers which dramatically increases advertising revenue.

      Unfortunately, much like digital music was a challenge for music labels, publishers are worried about cannibalizing print revenue. Instead they should be looking to balance revenue during the transition.

  4. “let another company license and run from 2003 through 2010”
    That, alone, shows he’s nuts. I’m no “jump on the latest craze” freak — but the WEB! Come on, fella.

    “He thinks it will be decades.”
    Yeh, sure. This is just a small part WITHIN the whole phenomenon of personal computing. And that shift happened, and continues, at screaming speed. There is no solid reason to think this small sub-part of the evolution of computer use won’t also happen at high speed.

  5. I subscribe to Rolling Stone via Zinio, so I can read it on my iPad. It’s great.

    Oddly, since I signed up for the Zinio, they also started sending me the printed version for free. I never asked for it, and I never even look at it; goes directly into the recycle bin.

  6. I think it will only be 1-2 years before he is reversing his position – or, at least, he will look stupid if he doesn’t reverse it. The future is much closer than he thinks.

  7. HS Thompson would disagree Jann.

    He’d say this fscking, sumbitchin’ iPad is too frickin’ cool for school. Here, let me have a hit of that….

  8. <<<<>>>>>

    Who in the heck is doing this? I can’t think of any company who is throwing away their printing business to move to iPad only.

    All of the iPad publishers coming from the print world seem to view the iPad as an adjunct to the print business.

    Wenner shows he’s ill-informed by overstating his case.

  9. I think he’s correct, but “decades” is pushing it too far out. He would be correct in the decades prediction IF we were talking about digital magazines on PCs.

    But the iPad changes that markedly. My mother-in-law (almost 70) has an original iPad and loves it, and it replaced her Kindle. She reads novels and news on it. So while most of her generation may not jump onto the iPad bandwagon, far more will than would switch from a paper subscription to a PC subscription.

    The real difference will come when digital content provides significantly more information and entertainment than print. Right now people are conditioned to print magazines. They have to be conditioned to iPad magazines. That will take time, but publishers to embrace it (without abandoning their print subscribers) and enhance it will come out ahead.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.