John "Rick" Macarthur is a rich man who is the publisher of Harper's Magazine, a very good magazine that pays employees poorly and does not make money. John MacArthur hates the internet. Like a stopped clock, even John MacArthur is sometimes unintentionally right.
MacArthur's has been quite vocal about his hatred of the internet and all things technological. He has compared the internet, clumsily, to a Xerox machine that sucks the value out of magazines, because his personal hatred of technology does not enable him to make metaphors with any more current technology than a Xerox machine. Because of MacArthur's hatred of the internet, Harper's has kept its content stubbornly behind a paywall, even as almost every other magazine and newspaper plunged ahead with free content online.
Many in the media consider John MacArthur to be at best a backwards old coot, and at worst a dangerous moron. I would like to state for the record that in my opinion John MacArthur is both of these things, at least to a small degree. I would like to further state, though, that just because John MacArthur talks and writes in the most grating "Patronizing and Ignorant Old Patrician Bastard" style you could ever conceive—which comes through quite clearly in Ravi Somaiya's profile of him today—it does not mean that he is wrong about all of his positions on the media and technology. Specifically, John MacArthur is right about the following things:
1. Giving away content for free online has not worked out so well for print media.
Yes! This is true! It has not worked out so well for newspapers. It has not worked out so well for magazines. Both of those industries have been decimated in the past 15 years—in part because, it turns out, it is harder to get people to pay for something if you give it away to them for free.
So it is only fair that we acknowledge that, although most savvy people in our industry consider John "Rick" MacArthur to be a laughable old clown, his central idea that his magazine should not give all of its content away for free has proven to be pretty true. That said, MacArthur is wrong about the following things:
1. "The web is bad for writers." No. "The web" is a tool that many times more writers can use for reaching many times more readers than they ever could have in print. The web, if used properly, is great for writers.
2. The internet "is bad for publishers." No. Gawker Media is a publisher. We're doing fine. The internet is certainly bad for Harper's, yes. But that is partly because Harper's does not participate in the internet.
3. The internet is "bad for readers." Ha. Readers are better served by the internet than any other group. They are offered an unprecedented profusion of amazing content for free. Never in human history has a technology better served readers.
In conclusion, MacArthur is correct about the internet's threat to his own very specific business model, in spite of his general ignorance and myopia about the larger implications of technology—technology that is, by the way, the future, whereas print journalism is, without a doubt, the past, no matter how much that may bother John "Rick" MacArthur and his generational cohort, which will die out and leave behind a world dominated by the internet. Many people didn't like electricity, television, and recorded music, either, but they sure were useful, and so they succeeded.
Also, Harper's Magazine exists in a pretend economy supported solely by rich benefactors and therefore serves little use as an example of the media industry as a whole, which must find a way to make money, so that we can all be paid decent salaries, unlike most editorial employees of Harper's.