Like many out there on the Internet, I was rather shocked by Harper’s Magazine publisher John R. MacArthur’s recent broadside against Google. I wasn’t horrified because I disagree with the sentiment, though I do, but because it displayed shocking ignorance and incuriosity about one of the most important powers shaping the future of words.
If you harbor fears about whether the leaders of traditional publishing are equipped to shepherd their institutions into a digital era, I urge you not to read it.
I’m sure I don’t have to remind you about the storied history of Harper’s Magazine, founded in 1850, the place where Moby-Dick first found print, and one of the important literary institutions this country has ever produced.
As Mathew Ingram points out in a similarly horrified response to MacArthur’s screed, other old media publishers like The Atlantic have thrived by innovating in the Internet era with a stellar roster of bloggers, new formats, and a firm embrace of the era of Teh Google.
In fact, it was Atlantic Senior Editor Alexis Madrigal who had one of the best retorts to MacArthur’s lament that Harper’s does not readily appear when one Googles “magazines that publish essays.”
You know how I get all my news? I Google for “world wide web sites about what happened in real life in the recent past”
— Alexis C. Madrigal (@alexismadrigal) January 18, 2013
I don’t blame people for being disquieted by the rapid rise of new technology and the effects it has on our lives, and there is also a long tradition of literary technophobia that MacArthur is seemingly stepping into.
I do blame people for incuriosity and failure to investigate the enemies you see in your midst. I do blame people for failing to adapt to the inevitabilities of the future. It’s not Google’s job to do your work for you and bring readers to you because… why again? It’s your job to understand how Google works and adapt accordingly so your existing readers can find what they’re looking for and so you can attract new ones.
You can cover your ears and eyes and shout as the future approaches, but prepared to get drowned as the tide washes over you.
Photo by me
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