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Tuesday, 24 June 2008 15:32

Linux Magazine is dead, long live Linux Magazine!

Just a couple of weeks ago Linux New Media acquired the subscriber base of Linux Magazine in the USA. With the paper magazine no more, and just an online presence left, does this mean that print is dead?

The last paper edition of the US Linux Magazine, a different publication to Linux Magazine the rest of the world over, will be the current June 2008 one. Its old owners decided to abandon the costly print production process in favour of a more profitable online publication model.

Many publishers still maintain a print presence while trying to establish an online one as well, and you might think that Linux New Media is opting for a fully focussed online approach. But appearances can be deceiving.

The situation is somewhat complex and takes a bit of getting your head around, but let's try anyway. The Linux Magazine in question was published in print, in North America, by a company called InfoStrada. As a result, the Linux Magazine as sold in other countries was known as Linux Pro magazine in the US and Canada.

According to the June 11th Linux New Media press release it purchased the assets related to InfoStrada's Linux Magazine. "Linux Magazine's readership will be merged into Linux New Media's North American flagship magazine, Linux Pro" it said.

Are you still with me? Good. Because Linux Magazine (US) continues to exist as an online publication, no name change was required nor applied to Linux Pro magazine.

So we end up in a position where Linux Magazine subscribers get a print copy of Linux Pro magazine from now on, and a web version, while InfoStrada continues to provide a web only version of Linux Magazine.

Linux New Media publishes more than 30 magazines and websites and organizes industry events, including CeBIT Open Source and Brazil's LinuxPark conference series. Linux Pro itself continues to grow, with an expanding subscriber base partly fuelled by the influx of Linux Magazine readers.

So Linux New Media is not abandoning print in any shape or form, but InfoStrada has done. But does this mean print is dead?

That's the question being asked by a Linux Magazine contributor on hearing the news of the closure. Ken Hess is a well known Linux evangelist and columnist at Linux Magazine with a reputation for telling it straight.

In his blog he admits that "As the "On the Desktop" columnist for Linux Magazine I was both shocked and excited by the announcement to cease the print version in favor of a web-only zine." Hess adds that "When I first heard the news, it left me a bit cold I admit. After some consideration, I feel that the right decision was made for Linux Magazine."

For a start it will now be a much more accessible magazine, easily readable by Linux fanboys anywhere on the planet. For a finish it should be far more profitable as a result.

For Hess the answer to his question seems clear cut, an emphatic yes: print is dead. He admits that as far as he is concerned all his writing outlets are now online.

However, Hess does not represent every freelance journalist. I have also been a member of this profession for nearly 20 years now, and do not agree that print is dead. Far from it. Sure, the number of online publications I contribute to now outnumbers my print commissions. But it does not dominate them, it does not own them, it has not killed them. Yet.

iTWire is a good example of where the web will win out every single time: news reporting. The whole point about news is immediacy, if not getting the story first then getting it in a timely manner. Something that print publications with long lead times cannot hope to match.

Even daily newspapers are having to admit that the web does news better, and that's why most have a thriving online version as well. If you want to read it first you read it online. Print publications must regroup and refocus, in the case of news an IT magazine has to look at providing in-depth analysis of the story rather than just the headline these days.

Longer lead times work in favour of in-depth analysis and give print the edge in this regard. Cut out the immediacy requirement and the writer is given space to explore and analyse.

But this competitive edge can only hold up for so long, and news is only a part of what most IT magazines do. In time I think that Hess will be proved right and, at least in the world of IT, print magazines will go the way of papyrus and smoke signals.

But not any time soon.



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