The 2.0 of the Town
by Emily Gordon
Old magazines learn new tricks online.
Storied magazines The New Yorker (est. 1925) and Harper’s (1850) both launched major website redesigns this year, upping the ante among fellow classics like Scientific American (1845), The Atlantic (1857), and The Nation (1865) in the challenging game of branding such periodicals online. In this looking-glass world, how do you serve devoted print-edition readers, catch YouTubers on the fly, and appease overlords with ad revenues and subscriptions—all without losing cachet? The solution:
Expert editors become web magnates, the book is broken into bits, and art and editorial must lie down together. Harpers.org puts its weighty (and free) archive front and center thanks to Paul Ford, its one-man design and programming team. Thenation.com, redesigned by Brown+Ryan in 2000, has revived readership and circulation with blogs and activist tools; Scientific American’s Webby-nominated podcasts are hits on iTunes. Everyone will be tracking The New Yorker’s evolving strategy, though, which expands the magazine experience with multimedia and will soon include searchable abstracts of the entire archive.
Part of the challenge for exacting print people, as web editor Blake Eskin observes, is that “there’s a level of precision that you can’t achieve online—you can’t control kerning or line spacing, for instance,” so content and search-engine functionality are key. Winterhouse’s Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel, along with New Yorker art and edit staff, were instrumental in developing the new site’s layout (an early sketch is above), color palette (“Whoever thought that black and red could look so good?” muses Helfand), and a subtly animated Eustace Tilley butterfly. Drenttel avers: “It’s not so much revolutionary as responsible, but in a way, that’s actually harder to do.”