Wise man speaks much sense about online publishing

Andrew Rashbass The Guardian recently carried an interesting interview with Andrew Rashbass, the chief executive of The Economist group. I’m a big fan of The Economist both in its online and print forms, but in this interview, Rashbass says some interesting things about publishing in print versus online:

Before he became the chief executive, he ran The Economist online and was responsible for its website. He says: “When I was struggling to position the website I made a mistake, which turned out to be a positive mistake. I thought we should do the same online as we did in print, simply transferring from one platform to the other. But we carried out research around the world among educated people who didn’t read the Economist and discovered, to our surprise, that it wasn’t what they wanted.” He says they came to realise that there was a distinction between what he calls the “lean-back, immersive, ritual pleasure” of reading The Economist in print compared to the “lean-forward, interactive” way people used the site. It was, says Rashbass, the difference between “snacking on the net as against the gourmet meal of reading in print”. That convinced him and his team to offer an entirely different experience to website users. Rather than lecturing the audience, they set out to build a community of people eager to participate in discussions with the magazine’s journalists and with each other.

While Rashbass is right to credit the overriding importance of the magazine’s content created by the Editor, his description of building a distinctive online community is exactly what we are trying to do with Annals of Botany – here, on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Unlike The Economist, the charitable and educational interests of The Annals of Botany Company means that we have no plans to charge for online content at the present time. But there’s one other thing Rashbass is dead right about:

…”the mega-trend of mass intelligence”. People are “smarting up” rather than “dumbing down”. There are no longer elite media and mass media because more and more people are mixing and matching, “going to art-house movies and Spiderman”. People are no longer easily categorised.

All scientists need to be in the forefront of this emerging public conversation, and if Annals is in the vangard, then we’re getting it right.


Alan Cann
Internet Consulting Editor
Annals of Botany.

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