MAD on the Internet?

February 3rd, 2009 | Posted in General

In the wake of the “MAD going quarterly” announcement, one common response I’ve read is that MAD didn’t make any real attempts to create an internet presence to compliment (supplement?) it’s printed incarnation, and that helped lead to the circulation difficulties. I’m not sure how anyone works out that offering MAD content for free on the internet would somehow equate to getting people to pay for content in a magazine, but certainly in terms of introducing MAD to new young readers who spend most of their time on the internet, it makes some sense. Almost all magazines these days have websites with some kind of content available for free. MAD‘s website isn’t very involved or dynamic, that’s for sure.

To say that MAD has never tried to reach out to the internet is not true, however. If anything, MAD was a little ahead of it’s time in that respect.

Way back in the summer/fall of 2000, MAD spent several months posting original content on it’s website, then called madmag.com. Called the “MADness of the Week”, these were specially written and drawn features that were sometimes “rollover” images or illustrations that had pop up gags, sometimes static images with text and later included flash-based shorts with limited animation. MAD had their freelancers produce the work, both writing and art, and then would produce the features and post them weekly. This led to a lot of quick turnaround jobs for freelancers. My first “published” work for MAD was actually on their website… an image of the major presidential candidates as contestants on “Presidential Survivor”:

On the website if you rolled over one of the figures there would be a pop-up with a goofy bio of them. I also did some football related art for another “MADness of the Week”, and another Gore caricature if I remember right. That art is long lost.

Some of that old content (not mine but others) is still on their website, its just buried a bit. Look under “Past Madness” in the upper menu bar and you’ll find 12 different animations/features still there, for what its worth.

MAD also had a short lived feature on AOL’s “RED Page”, which was a special teen orientated section for subscribers. MAD did a daily gag feature that included a single cartoon. MAD paid freelancers such as myself to produce the cartoon and (presumably) to write the gags. Here are a few of the ones I did for that little project:

None of these endeavors lasted long. I think the “MADness of the Week” went for 20 plus weeks or so, and the AOL thing only lasted a month or two. It was probably just too expensive to pay freelancers to produce this work when it was generating exactly zero revenues. This was before Google Adsense (I believe) and other easier advertising to “monetize” your website… which even at its best is only a pale shadow of the kind of advertising revenues magazines and print publications were used to in the late 1990’s. Without a revenue stream having content on a website was a low priority at the time.

Today things are obviously a little different. Magazine circulations are way down and internet advertising is becoming more and more effective, allowing websites that generate a ton of traffic a way to actually see some revenues, which in turn allows them to pay people to create more and better content to drive more traffic to their site. In a way its like an electronic version of the magazine format… create content people want to read, then count the number of people seeing the publication and charge advertisers according rates. It would be interesting to see how much money is actually generated by even the most successful of websites, and how that compares to what magazines were making in the days before the internet took over. I am betting magazine revenues were significantly higher comparatively. Ad based revenues seems to be the only thing that works when it comes to making money off the internet… nobody seems willing to pay for the content to be created.

So where does that leave MAD? I don’t know. Fully illustrated cartoons and features like they have been publishing for the last 57 years are expensive to produce and I don’t know if web ad based revenues would be enough to make it work, nor if that kind of humor translates into the multimedia world. Clearly they need to evolve onto the internet to continue into the 21st century. That might mean in order to do that, MAD might have to cease being MAD and become something else.

I got a kick out of a blog post last week at Cracked.com entitled “Cracked Officially Starts Feeling Sorry for MAD“, which is a lot of pointless posturing about how smart Cracked was to turn into a website and how they are now much more successful than MAD, which is now going quarterly… blah, blah, blah. That’s hilarious because in order to become successful on the web, Cracked had to stop being Cracked and become something else. There is zero illustration or cartooning on Cracked.com… no art whatsoever. Its a totally different thing now, and if the author’s idea is to somehow claim Cracked finally beat MAD, that’s like having an Italian restaurant that was always in second place next to the better Italian place down the block crow about finally having bigger crowds… and all it took was to switch to being a Chinese restaurant. If you don’t like Chinese food, who cares?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Cracked.com. They do mostly “funny lists” where they list the top 7 ways to tenderize your meat or some such, which is ordinarily lazy humor writing but they do it with a lot of sharp wit and good observation about the subjects they are “listing”, and their lists are often quite funny (although they resort to a lot of profanity, which is more lazy writing). It’s pretty incomprehensible to see them pretend they finally beat MAD at their own game, when they failed miserably as a magazine TWICE, once as a MAD copycat and once as a bad Maxim wannabe before settling in on the web. More power to them on the web, but let’s not compare apples to oranges. Cracked is dead, and this website that has the Cracked logo on it has zero relationship to what Cracked once was. Its a different animal with the same name.

If that’s what MAD has to do to become successful on the web then it won’t be MAD anymore… and then what’s the point?

Comments

  1. Mark Engblom says:

    Without the nominal cache of the “Cracked” name (for whatever that’s worth), the online site might as well be called “Smart Ass Fratboys Crack Themselves Up”. Not very catchy, but that’s essentially what’s going on up there. Most of ’em seem to be guys who couldn’t get into the big leagues of The Onion, or who pine for the days of National Lampoon’s R-rated snark and blase’ profanity.

    They forget there’s a massive gulf between spitballers cranking out lists and seasoned professionals crafting highly-polished humor content month in and month out. What a bunch ‘a dopes.

  2. yondaime_kazekage says:

    you wanna hear something funny?
    cracked magazine says their much better than MAD.
    holy crap, i couldnt find it anywhere in my country.
    i never even heard of it.. more like a crap to me.
    but i can simply find a copy of MAD almost every bookstore.

    i feel bad too when MAD is goin quarter. hope they keep on going.

  3. Nate says:

    I’ve been thinking about this whole situation, too. It would be neat if MAD could somehow correspond the magazine with an online feature. Maybe have a connection with the magazine via the online version, so you’d HAVE to buy the actual magazine to stay involved? I don’t know. For many these days, that would be too much work as well. I have no clue how to go about doing such a thing as well, but it seems like there could be a solution.

    If it were up to me, I would want MAD to just keep doing like they’ve been doing and keeping up monthly issues, Classics and everything else! But, times have changed, and that’s not happening…

  4. Mark Engblom says:

    It’d be awesome to see MAD go back to black and white and get onto the Amazon Kindle system (which, as far as I know, is black *. The Kindle is lighting the world on fire (the units are sold out for many months in the future), and I could really imagine MAD fittting into that content stream rather nicely…while still retaining its magazine-like reading experience.

    Just one possibility.

  5. Kris says:

    My reaction to that bit on Cracked.com was the same as yours. Cracked has always been second-rate. And I don’t think anyone ought to be celebrating the hard times falling on print magazines anyway.

    MAD has been pretty hit or miss since before I was born, but I know it has an amazing legacy that deserves to stay alive. Going quarterly is a fine way to reduce costs, but Mark Engblom’s comment above also contains a good suggestion: Go black-and-white. Not for the whole issue, but maybe have mostly B&W, with a few color spreads throughout and a color cover. Maybe costs could even be reduced enough so that MAD could reduce its cover price–thereby attracting more buyers.

    I think the main thing you need to do with MAD, though, is get people interested in it again. Make it relevant and subversive again. Maybe introduce more original content instead of just incessant parodies of pop culture (though I admit completely cracking up at the “Botchmen” parody). MAD can stay MAD without being stale, and I guess that’s my point. If what you’re doing isn’t working, you gotta try something else.

  6. Cliff Roth says:

    Cracked.com is a joke and not a very good one. I was a big Cracked fan (the original print version) and the online version is garbage. I do not see why an online MAD would have to be free. It could be a subscriber based online magazine. Even if it isn’t online stuff can lead to the purchase of print stuff. I think part of the problem is the market being aimed at which is generally the younger generation. While they do need to be marketed to, I think the main focus should be those who grew up with MAD and for whatever reason ‘grew out of it’ and try to get them back (such as myself who only recently got back into MAD). Many of us prefer print stuff because it can be read in places where online content can’t, at least not very easily (at a decent size anyway).

  7. Mark Engblom says:

    “I think the main thing you need to do with MAD, though, is get people interested in it again.”

    As I said in a previous MAD post, that’s incredibly tough to do in a society saturated in satire and a sort of perma-snarky attitude in almost every channel of media. MAD seemed to stand out the most in the era of a more straight-laced media culture (or “square” as some might call it), but it just gets lost in the din of smart-assery you see and hear everywhere today.

    So, short of going SUPER profain and offensive (which, even then, will only get you so much attention), I’m not sure how MAD once again tickles the funnybone of a younger generation that has a ba-zillion humor options, the attention span of a gnat, and zero brand loyalty.

  8. James says:

    Didnt cracked get taken off the stands twice?
    thats SUCKsess if you ask me. (sorry for the bad joke)
    MAD doesnt need a website if there magasine is way funny! 🙂
    Also i find nothing on the cracked website funny
    i was looking at there website and one of the articles was Paul Blart: Nazi
    …………
    Were these guys on drugs when they did that??
    anyways Mad rocks Cracked sucks!

  9. Cratey says:

    Fair call on Cracked, though in Dan O’Brien’s defence he did point out that he was highlighting the absurdity of ever thinking there could be a rivalry between MAD and Cracked. The comments section of that article is full of people losing their nut over it, and he had to explain that yes, he was a fan of MAD and he was trying to humorously announce their demise into the realm of quarterly-publishing and lament a prospective world without MAD in it, while taking a dig at how unglamorous Cracked really was.

    That said, it was a very poor article, for him.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks for the insight. If his explanation was in the comments area then I definitely missed it as I didn’t have time to wade through that mess. If that was really his intent then it was, as you say, a poor job… if you have to explain the joke it’s not a very good joke.

  10. Ignatz says:

    Any way this plays out, DC needs to figure out how to make the most of the web sooner rather than later.

    Of course there’s something to be said for the simple pleasure/convenience of holding an actual bound magazine that requires real page turning and genuine folding in of the fold in. (unless you’re an obsessed collector) It might be interesting to see if kids today receive a different sense of tactile pleasure from earlier generations: the feel of plastic vs the feel of paper.

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