Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Six Million Dollar Mag

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Apr 27, 1999

Posted on NwsTrolls 27 April 1999

The news has made the rounds by now, even inspiring a thread on NewsTrolls: man puts ezine up for auction on href="">eBay as a joke, receives six million dollar bid.

One wonders: what's a six million dollar ezine worth these days? I popped into Impression magazine to take a look....

... to be met square in the face with an advertisement for uBid online auction. Funny. But since Impression was kicked off eBay, fair enough, I suppose.

Impression has got to be a nice draw for advertisers. Fully the top third of the page is devoted to the banner ad. Not that the ad is all that big - it's a standard banner-sized ad. But it floats in all that white space. You can't miss it.

Scrolling down, my first impression is: clean! Impression looks nice. No hefty animated gifs. No cramming of text into three closely-spaced columns. Impression presents its material, neatly headed, in widely spaced tables.

But I don't get that far: the subhead at the top of the page reads, Impression is for sale. but... I thought that was a joke! Click....

"We refuse to be the last ones to sell out. That would, like, be so lame. This is the Web. It's all about 'being aggressive,'" write the authors. "Used, obsolete sites have been auctioned off for thousands. We're offering you a living, breathing site edited by people who know how to use spell-check."

Hey, this is good stuff. How about some interviews with site staff?

"This is not a joke." -- Andy Wang, editor-in-chief

"$3 million? That's it? I leave an actual big-time Web startup, and now we're about to sell out for $3 million? That's not even enough to maintain a theater that's going to show the Phantom Menace. Wait, does that mean we get free soda now?" -- Rick Chandler, senior writer

"Free soda is cool" -- Alex Valdes, friend of Impression

"$3 million? You know, my ex-fiancee probably could come up with that. God, I AM SUCH A LOSER!" -- Will Leitch, contributing editor

"You will be hearing from my lawyers." Carrot Top, the best damn prop comic in history

OK, I lied. I got these quotes from the site. But the site authors wanted me to use them!

If you're a reporter and you're interested in this, that means you probably write for some equally lame, uh, worthwhile, marketable and valuable Web site. That means you're probably on a deadline every 15 minutes and don't really have time to check facts, like whether Art Bell's site was really hacked by Serbs.

Speaking of verifying news sources - Matt Drudge was reporting last night that Time-Warner is pulling the plug on Patherfinder. Seems like Time-Warner spent about $100 million on the site, and were unable to make money.

OK, well I didn't check that figure (and I can't find the link on Drudge any more, so you'll have to take my word for it), but I do know they dropped a whack of cash on Pathfinder. Makes six million seem - well - so small.

Oh wait - here too check my facts!)


According to publishing sources, the world's largest media company has finally decided to pull the plug on its cornerstone website!

TIME WARNER is said to be closing up shop @ after a five year, $100 million effort to combine the content of TIME, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, FORTUNE, MONEY, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, PEOPLE, etc. at one central hub -- a bold attempt to create an Internet powerhouse.

According to the March 22 FORBES Magazine, PATHFINDER has lost $30 million altogether and sources say web traffic and commerce trends weren't justifying a further commitment from the TIME WARNER suits...

You've got to love Drudge. A mysterious reference to 'publishing sources' and a reference to an article from Forbes to lend it an air of authority and - Wham-O (tm) - one internet scoop.

The authors at Impression claim to be able to use a spell-checker, and that appears to be true. Myself - I never use a spell-checker. It's a fascist tool of the American Corporate Conglomorate trying to make us spell all the words the same way. I'm Canadian! Why should I spell the way Forbes does?

But they also imply that they check their facts, which in turn implies that they write articles worth reading - why would anyone worry about the spelling otherwise? Let's see....

  • Rick Chandler visits a Y2K Expo, where he finds bulletproof briefcases and flint fire starters
  • Scott Dickensheets and Andy Wang look back at a year of hope, hype and heroes in magazines
  • Maika Pollack spends several nights in an urban squat in Amsterdam
  • The Naked Mile may be over, the Tae-Bo craze continues

Hm... kind of like a magazine. Some feature articles, some news, entertainment and sports, and of course the link to the archives. Something for everyone. Just like Time or Newsweek. The Media section looks interesting...

What do you know. It's a column on magazines. Apparently not content to wait for the 1998 national Magazine Awards (this Thursday - make sure it's on your local channel), various authors at Impression have decided to bestow their own awards. Editor of the Year. Best Sports Story. Best Lewinsky Story (no, really - it's a tie "Selected work", by Michael Isikoff, Newsweek; "Decoding the Starr Report," by Renata Adler, Vanity Fair, December 1998. No links, though).

And what is the best news site on the internet, according to Impression staff? The Industry Standard, "essential reading for the self-proclaimed digerati," according to Impression writer Andy Wang.

The Industry Standard web site is celebrating its first anniversary this week, and decided to pat itself on the back: "If we've become so much a part of the landscape that people don't realize we're new, we must be doing something right."

Yeah. I would bet that the Industry Standard would fetch a lot more than six million dollars on the open market. I am a subscriber to their daily internet news round-up, Media Grok, and can say without checking that its coverage is current and comprehensive. If I ever need an article in a hurry, Media Grok provides me with background and a dozen links on a moment's notice.

The Industry Standard once even sent me a t-shirt and four free copies of their dead tree version, which was pretty impressive - Ziff-Davis won't even send the time of day to Canada (I've asked), but the people at The Industry Standard bent over backward to make sure I was included.

Jonathan Weber's article serves as an intro to four recent articles on the future of the internet, which look like pretty good reading. I'll have to zip back there after I finish this article.

Oh yeah - I was writing about Impression. Back - back - back....

Look - it's no Industry Standard, probably not even a Salon, but Impression isn't the cheap slap-em-up website the articles made them out to be. They obviously have a plan, they've got a lot of writers, some good and varied content, and maybe even a readership (if not, that could be obtained with some judicious advertising).

They have a niche, and even if they have no community and no portal, they have a certain attitude - one which is displayed by advertising themselves on eBay. This is a site which could go somewhere, and in the world of internet content - where publishers like Time Warner, Ziff-Davis and others routinely drop tens of millions of dollars on flash and grab, six million doesn't seem excessive.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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