2.04.2009

Blurt: mag to web and back again

This may be a first: A magazine that folded and morphed into an online-only product is now set to launch... a magazine.

Harp magazine, one of the best music titles to debut in the past decade, folded last March. It was purchased by JazzTimes parent Guthrie Inc. in 2003, and in announcing its closure last year, Guthrie CEO Glenn Sabin said, "Unfortunately, Harp's critical acclaim never translated into sustaining commercial success. Harp's lifecycle was ill timed with the precipitous decline of the music software industry, coupled with the consolidation of the consumer magazine newsstand business and rising paper and postage costs."

Those behind the mag, including publisher Scott Crawford, quickly regrouped and launched Blurt, an online magazine/web site. It is essentially Harp online, with a normal daily-updated web presence and a quarterly magazine. That product was essentially a magazine in all aspects but the presence of paper. Instead, users would click through pages in a dedicated web-based viewer.

At the time, Crawford lauded the “green-minded, digital-only format,” conveniently forgetting that Harp's old-fashioned print-on-paper format was doing just fine until commerce intruded. And now?

“It’s sort of a new paradigm,” Crawford told FOLIO: magazine. “We’ve gotten to the point of wanting a physical product to help brand the site—we want it to be the ‘soul’ of the web site in print.”

Translation: web ads sell at only a fraction of the cost of those in print, and if we want to survive, we'd best get ourselves on the newsstands. The magazine will appear quarterly and will retail for $4.95. It will debut in mid-March.

It's an interesting trajectory, the polar opposite of most newspapers and an increasing number of magazines. It will be interesting to see if the magazine repurposes online content, or vice versa, or whether it will offer completely original content. As a commenter on the FOLIO: piece points out, many web sites have tried and failed the move to print, including eBay and Motley Fool. Blurt's leg up comes from the fact that most saw that as an extension of a print title that already sold 60,000 copies a month, which should make Blurt's 30,000 print run a reasonable proposition.

I for one welcome the change. While I was a Harp subscriber from the beginning and have kept up with some of Blurt's coverage, I've read no more than the first digital issue. If I want to see stories laid out on a page, I want to be able to hold that page in my hand. Blurt online would do better to ditch that aspect of its presentation and stick to frequently updating its web page, leaving longer-form pieces to the print product.

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