Tuesday, December 14, 2004

'Always On' - or a little off?

You have to admire Tony Perkins, who, as the creator the daring Red Herring, will go down in geek-journo history as the Boswell of the Bubble. Now, he's aiming to reprise the feat with Always On, a magazine of the blogger, by the blogger and for the blogger. More on that in a moment. But first...

I always smile when I remember how the Herring wanted to feature the three founders of such-and-such a promising company on the cover, tarted out in expensive suits and puffing brobdignabian cigars. These guys, studiously scruffy pre-IPO software engineers who spent all their disposable income on Boxsters and lattes, didn't need no stinking suits, and, accordingly, didn't own any. So, the Herring rented them Brionis and, of course, threw in the cigars. If memory serves, that was the high point of that particular venture. Not sure what happened to the Boxsters.

One more reminiscence, then on to the point: When I went to the Herring's aerie atop the old Hamm's brewing plant to pitch whatever company I headed at the time. Tony and crew weren't particularly interested in my yarn but were fascinated to learn I used to be one of the top editors of the S.F. Chronicle. It turns out that Tony and the editors were in the midst of a hot dispute over the headline for the cover of the upcoming issue and deadline was fast approaching. It had to do with whether the stock market was heading up or down. Was it, they wondered, the "Pause That Refreshes" or "The Calm Before the Storm"? I offered J.P. Morgan's: "The Market Will Tend to Fluctuate." If memory serves, they went with something like Ike's delectable "Future Lies Ahead."

As to the planned Always On mag, it is understandably tempting to want to extend a successful publishing model to a new topic. If people like model-train magazines, then it stands to reason that they (or enthusiasts similar to them) will buy knitting, snow-boarding or woodworking magazines, too.

But blogs are different. As the first media form native to the Internet, they have an immediacy, individuality and interactivity that will be hard to freeze-frame for casual bathroom reading three or four months hence. Even if Tony eschews rerunning blogdom's greatest hits and sticks to covering this as an emerging business vertical a la the rise of Silicon Valley, the pickings in the foreseeable future will be slim.

Blogging by its nature is dispersed, entrepreneurial and almost always a solitary pursuit. Who are you going to write about? Who are the Steve Jobs (Jobses?) and John Doerrs of blogdom? And who, for heaven's sake, is going to pay you to advertise? The mega mad-money marketing budgets of the 1990s have long since dematerialized, arguably evermore. Save for Mark Cuban, the multigazillionaire BlogMaverick, few of us can afford a press agent, much less a display ad. With some bloggers, you wonder if they even can scrape together the $49 to buy a subscription.

Notwithstanding, we are rooting for Herr Herring. We hope he proves us wrong.


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