You’ve got to love the timing of the debut of NewYorker.com, the New Yorker’s exceedingly modest new Web site. Here we are, some half-dozen years into the online revolution. Dot-coms are crashing all around, with the NASDAQ reduced to about half its level of a year ago. Net-based business plans are going up in flames. Webzines such as Salon and Feed are running on fumes. So what better day to unveil a Web content venture than February 12, 2001?
The New Yorker’s road to the Web has been rocky and long. Just a few weeks ago the New York Post’s Keith Kelly reported that editor David Remnick had to appeal personally to Condé Nast chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. not to delay the Web site yet again, as company CEO Steve Florio had wanted to do. Well, now it’s here — and, at least in its initial incarnation, it’s about as innovative as yet another cover drawing of Eustace Tilley.
Let’s stipulate that, as magazine Web sites go, NewYorker.com is fine in a low-key, New Yorker–ish sort of way. It includes listings, “The Talk of the Town,” the humor column “Shouts & Murmurs,” Nicholas Lemann’s “Letter from Washington,” a short story by Alice Munro, and the back-of-the-book criticism. It excludes everything else — and the new issue being a double anniversary edition (with, yes, Eustace Tilley on the cover), that’s quite a bit, including a reminiscence by Gabriel García Márquez, a “U.S. Journal” by Mark Singer, and a piece by Adam Gopnick on schooling for hoodlums who are serving sentences at Rikers Island.
Unfortunately, what makes the New Yorker great simply doesn’t translate all that well into bits and bytes. The typeface is tiny to the point of being unreadable. Rather than paging through the cartoons — which is what makes the print magazine such a wonderful bathroom companion — the NewYorker.com reader gets sent to the affiliated Cartoon Bank, where you can watch cartoons randomly displayed on your screen. Eh. Worse, NewYorker.com intends to emulate magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic, and Newsweek, all of which load up their sites with content — some of it quite good — that you can’t get in the print version. Why subscribe to the magazine if you’ve still got to chain yourself to your computer?
One interesting feature is a direct link to a New Yorker section on Barnesandnoble.com. Among the offerings are three ebooks of anthologies from the magazine, comprising new fiction, medicine, and business. (The $7.95 ebooks, unfortunately, are available only in Microsoft Reader format.) According to an item in the current Publishers Weekly, more titles are expected to be rolled out soon.
Publishers Weekly contains some valuable misinformation as well. The URL that it lists for the New Yorker’s Web site is not www.newyorker.com, but rather www.newyorkermag.com, which turns out to be a pretty funny parody by Modern Humorist. My favorite: “ShoutsBot 1.0. Our proprietary software scans newspapers from two weeks ago and generates stilted but basically readable 700-word satires. It’s the next best thing to Christopher Buckley!”
Bookmark both of them.