Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's GAME OVER for NYT's Play Magazine

Yes, friends, publishing is sadly not about what's good or great, when it comes to ink and pulp, it's about what sells ads,what keeps the hallway lights on, the cleaning crew emptying the trash bins, and the IT department updating your Microsoft Office Suite with the latest patch to keep the viruses away.

The New York Times reports (Times Shuts Down Sports Magazine, 11/17/08) "Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for The New York Times Company, confirmed the closing. Mr. Bryant said that the magazine “was more or less breaking even,” but only because of an Olympics issue in which all the ad space was bought by Nielsen."

Here's where we begin to see tricky staffing though.

(Continued after the Jump)

The article at the end, states that almost all the staffers - including the editor - were contractors. Thus, they likely did not participate in retirement plans, healthcare, or other benefits usually reserved for employees. If they did get those things, that's a rare occurrence indeed. The notion of publishing an entire publication almost entirely with contractors - especially by an employee-laiden company like the New York Times, belies a new paradigm - or atleast the front-and-center of it for all to see.

Let's set aside the "gosh, that's too bad" thoughts, because we all have them. Instead, let's look at how and why.

The Times, looking to capitalize on those well-off readers put forth a luxury-styled magazine centered on sports, for the jet-set and well-heeled. It was a quarterly magazine, so even though it started on February of 2006, that means they probably published fewer than a dozen issues. Yet, even with the likely tie-ins to pre-existing advertising in the papers' Sports section for select high-dollar products, they couldn't make a go of it. The mighty NYT Co, with an ad department that has the weight of that same name behind it, couldn't make it happen in the media capitol of the world. It's a business venture gone south. Nothing new to see here, move along.

As papers downsize, and produce new ventures, both with ink and pulp as well as the online flavors, continue to look at the staffing as an indicator of their commitment. Employees with benefits and so forth are one good indicator that someone is trying to do something right. Yet, more and more publications are moving even their existing positions from staff to freelance. Why? Because it's cheaper. Period.

The reality of this is that what happened is business. Period. When people tell you they want you to work for them for free or cheap, "because of the love of the subject matter", or "because of the love of {insert altruistic concept here}", look closely at the organization. If everyone else is doing it as a volunteer, and they're doing it out of a scrappy office in a strip mall on the outskirts of town, and there's no corporate conglomerate listed as the projects' owner, then maybe it's worth considering pro bono. Otherwise, they're trying to pull at your heartstrings while you're feeling, and your pursestrings when you're not looking.


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6 comments:

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