I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but the worm finally turned sometime in the past year or two on the question of whether a magazine can survive without a Web site. For a while, I suppose, you didn’t necessarily need one, though we’ve been online in some form or another since November 1995. In the early days, our webmaster was a skinny, charmingly odd, reformed rock and roller who embraced the idea of exporting not just the sensibility of Texas Monthly but of Texas itself to this new frontier known as the Internet. Today, our webmaster is a skinny, charmingly odd, reformed rock and roller who embraces the same thing. Maybe the world isn’t that different after all.
Of course, even at our kitschiest, I’m not sure we’d go out to market again with the Triple W Ranch (www—get it?). That was our first attempt to translate the Texas Monthly brand to the digital platform, and you’d better believe that every conceivable form of Western-themed clip art was in heavy rotation (think lassos and barbed wire). We had no idea what we were doing back then—no one in the industry did—so we tried just about everything: lots of Web-only content, no Web-only content, everything in the current issue for free online, nothing in the current issue for free online, and so on. It helped that there was very little risk, since, until recently, so few people were paying attention. It almost didn’t matter if we failed; the point was to figure the thing out. It was like opening a play in New Haven to work through the kinks before heading to Broadway.
Well, it’s showtime, folks. This month, after a twelve-year run at the How Little Can We Spend and Still Show Our Faces Theater, we’re finally ready to mount a blockbuster production of texasmonthly.com. Over the past year, we’ve explored all the opportunities made possible by the Web to reach readers, appeal to advertisers, and connect the two. We’ve redesigned, reimagined, reconceived. We’ve added much more audio and video. (Which is to say: We’ve added audio and video. Taking advantage of the available technology had not been one of our strong suits. For that matter, we hadn’t done much with photojournalism either, but a revised agreement with our venerable photographers means you’ll get to see more of their best snaps.) You can learn about our new issue through a video table of contents, pod- and vodcast interviews with our writers, slide shows, and the like; we’ve also uploaded episodes of our public television series, Texas Monthly Talks. We’ve increased our number of staff blogs from one (the year-old, pleasingly popular Burkablog) to several (a sports blog, Delay of Game; a what-we’re-talking-about-around-the-watercooler blog, the Stand-up Desk; and an ombudsman blog of sorts, State of Mine, by yours truly), with a few more (Eat My Words, on dining, and About a Mover, on music) to come shortly. We’ve put a greater number of our 34 years’ worth of issues in an archive accessible to our registered customers (sorry, freeloaders!), with others to go up as time and resources permit.
The point of this frenzied activity is not simply to sell more subscriptions and Suburbans; it’s to hold our ground. The media landscape is perilous these days, with fiercer competition than ever. A magazine that is only a magazine cannot hope to sustain the interest of even its most loyal readers. Or maybe I should say, “A brand that is only a magazine …” Since day one the Texas Monthly name has been less about ink on paper than an outlook on life—a state of mind, if you will. The delivery mechanism for our trademark irreverence, intelligence, insight, and illumination was the printed page, for no other reason than it was the only such method available. Another effective, pervasive method now exists. So, as my daughter would say, “We’re so there.” Simple as that.
King Ranch, Ron Paul, Sandra Brown, Jody Conradt, Texas Southern University, the new mayor of Dallas, and Sarah Bird at the science fair.