Remember Variety? It used to be the place to go for news about upcoming movie projects and what was happening in Hollywood. (It was also a bit frustrating for non-subscribers like me given that it put so little of its content online, at least at the time I was regularly trying to consult it. Even now, it still sits mostly behind a paywall.) Now Business Insider and the New York Post report that its star has definitely fallen: Publisher Reed Elsevier has dropped its asking price for selling the magazine to under $30 million—less than AOL paid for tech blog TechCrunch.
Why is Variety going begging? According to Henry Blodget at Business Insider, it’s because it has been undercut by free competition. Free media blogs like Deadline, TheWrap, and others have essentially destroyed it. Why pay for Variety when you can get the same material that used to be its exclusive bread and butter for free from all over the Internet? Perhaps other newspapers should be paying attention here—if you don’t find a way to keep up with the times, the Internet will eat your lunch.
This isn’t exactly the first setback for the publisher, either. In February of this year, a collection of academics organized a boycott of the publisher, which mainly publishes expensive academic journals these days, for supporting legislation that would have prevented research, including some federally-funded research, from being released under open access models. By the end of the month, Elsevier had acquiesced and ended its support of that legislation.
More recently, three UK education research councils and the European Commission declared that taxpayer-funded research in Europe will have to be made more open-access, which “could drive the profitability of the journal business of Elsevier down by as much as 60%” according to one researcher.
And this is another way Elsevier is being gobsmacked by the Internet. In the old days, “open access” didn’t really mean so much, because the only way you could read an academic journal was to go to the library and read it. There was no Internet to which articles could be posted publicly and openly. Which led to the frantic scrabble for legislation earlier this year to try to protect its interests. But that’s not going to work when both governments and researchers see openness as a good thing.
Better update your business model to something else, Elsevier.