The Atlantic: Finding Its Sea Legs

I’m delighted to report that as of today the website for The Atlantic magazine has stuck an epee in its self-infatuated, self-destructive policy of permitting only subscribers of the print edition to read articles published in the printed magazine online.

A New York Times story reports on the change of heart. The Atlantic’s policy, while not entirely uncommon, is so dunderheaded it’s hard to know where to start.

  • People who subscribe to the print edition don’t need to read the stories online–so they essentially receive nothing of value for their patronage.
  • Potential new readers are punished and insulted when they go to read an article and get stopped by the dead-tree police. Subscribe or pay $2.95 to read any further, pal. You got a problem with that? 

This kind of policy begins when someone in a corner office sputters, “But we can’t give it away for free, we’ll erode our subscriber base!” and turns into reality when others in the room lacking the courage or brains to  explain why this is a terrible way to treat high quality content these days.

Atlantic’s operators got religion when they realized, hey, the site’s excellent blogs were getting enough traffic to sell–they’ve even hired some people to sell ads for it now!  

Go to and you can–if you’re feeling like a chair in front of a computer is a good way to spend the next 45 minutes or so of your life–read every freaking word of Jeffrey Goldberg’s excellent piece on the Middle East after Iraq. Or  the usually brilliant Dana Milbank’s not-all-that-funny excerpt of his new book about lifeways along the Potomac.

Interesting fact in the Times story: 308,000 visitors hit the Atlantic’s web site last month; 400,000 subscribe to the magazine. (Atlantickers say the web site traffic really a lot higher. Wish I had a Facebook stock option for every time I’ve heard that one.)

The last time I looked at Atlantic’s site, I cited them for highbrow contempt of reader–not even having the decency to  publish a most read/most e-mailed listing to allow their readers to have some sort of say in what appears on the site.

Well, that’s changed too.

There is now a lipstick red box that squeals “Hot Reads” and includes most popular items from the magazine and online, and the items with the most comments. Good move, but now they’re trying too hard to be with the smart set: Lookit, kids, I get it now! 

Explore posts in the same categories: magazines, print-to-digital,

One Comment on “The Atlantic: Finding Its Sea Legs”

  1. […] Craig Stoltz gives some additional perspective to the move. The Atlantic’s policy, while not entirely uncommon, is so dunderheaded it’s hard to know where to start. […]

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