Chris Anderson will generate plenty of chatter with his "The Web is Dead" Wired cover, foretold here previously. Fair enough; that's what a smart magazine editor does. But all the more reason to note the rich ironies in his eulogy.
Anderson, as predicted, argues in his cover story that "the World Wide Web is in decline" amid the rise of apps for the iPhone and iPad, for TV platforms like the Xbox, and computer services that exist outside the browser like Skype. Those alternative ecosystems constitute "the world that consumers are increasingly choosing, not because they're rejecting the idea of the Web but because these dedicated platforms often just work better or fit better into their lives... The fact that it's easier for companies to make money on these platforms only cements the trend."
Where did this argument first appear? Funny you should ask!
- Irony 1: Wired released its cover story package first to the Web, on Wired.com. You won't find it in Wired's iPad edition, and it's not out in print yet. The death of the web might be the "inevitable course of capitalism," but it apparently pays better to deliver that news via a dying medium.
- Irony 2: Revenue is up at Wired's profitable website this year, despite a fairly severe reduction in staff last year. Yet Anderson, who has no control over Wired.com, writes that most Web publishers haven't been able to "reverse the hollowing-out trend of analog dollars turning into digital pennies... and by the looks of it there's no light at the end of that tunnel ." That tunnel being the one Wired, itself, is not in, apparently.
- Irony 3: At the same time, circulation — and thus revenue, almost surely — are down for Wired's iPad edition, which was approaching (and possibly even surpassing) 100,000 copies for the debut issue but has since fallen off — to less than a fourth of what it was, one source claims. However large or small the decline, it could certainly be corrected; dropping off from a big bang launch is common enough in print and online media alike.
But Wired's iPad tumble does raise the possibility that Anderson is speaking as much from his hopes as from his analysis when he writes, "We are choosing a new form of Quality of Service: custom applications that just work." The iPad team belongs to Anderson, after all (unlike, again, the web team).
- Irony 4: Isn't this the guy who wrote a book called Free and noted, "You know this freaky land of free as the Web. A decade and a half into the great online experiment, the last debates over free versus pay online are ending?" Eh, maybe not so much; Anderson today writes, "Much as we love freedom and choice, we also love things that just work, reliably and seamlessly. And if we have to pay for what we love, well, that increasingly seems OK."
To his credit, Anderson also runs a feature in which publishers Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle get the opportunity to basically tell the editor he's nuts. (Battelle: "Splashing "The Death of the Web" on the cover might be, well, overstating the case just a wee bit.") In the online package, Wired.com editor Evan Hansen does likewise ("the web is far too powerful to be replaced by an alternative that gives away so much of what developers and readers have come to love and expect").
Like any provocative editor, in other words, Anderson has people talking. (See also this take from Rob Beschizza at BoingBoing and from blogging pioneer Dave Winer; TechMeme has more reaction.) Now we get to sit back and watch as the author/consultant/editor tries to explain why nearly the entire conversation about the Death of the Web is happening on the Seemingly Quite Alive Web. That should be, at the very least, entertaining.