Q: What do you think about MAD’s finally attempting a real online presence with their website and new app? IMO they have sorely neglected this, and it may be too little too late.
A: In the last several years I’ve often heard comments about how lousy MAD‘s website was, how they didn’t have anything worth looking at online and how behind the times they were. This usually came from people who didn’t buy or read the magazine, by the way.
To say that MAD was “behind the times” is totally inaccurate. In fact, MAD was far ahead of it’s time in terms of the web. Back in 2000, way before blogging, social media, and “Web 2.0” became the rage, MAD had original online content, both on its own website and in conjunction with AOL. I blogged about this some years ago, here is a bit about that endeavor, which in fact was where I got my actual start with MAD:
From an earlier blog post:
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.
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.
Fast forward to 2011, and MAD once again is focusing on creating a strong online presence. This time the internet is a different beast, and there are real tangible results in terms of both direct revenue and indirect revenue from stronger branding that can sustain the costs involved with creating online content and mobile apps.
Last year in May, MAD launched their official blog, The Idiotical, and I think they have done an outstanding job with it. It’s updated at least once daily, and often several times. It features a combination of classic material and original content including recurring weekly features, but the emphasis is on the original stuff, so it’s far from just recycling old classics. It’s become a website well worth a daily visit.
2012 has brought big changes not just for MAD‘s digital presence but DC comics as a whole. Earlier his year DC launched a complete revamp of their websites, integrating social media and losing the message board/forums that are slowing becoming dinosaurs in the internet landscape. MAD‘s website also got a facelift, taking The Idiotical from being a link to the main focus of their website. Of course we now have the digital MAD app, through which you can buy the magazine itself on the iPad.
Less direct but possibly even more effective has been MAD‘s increasing visibility through other popular websites. We have seen a big increase in MAD being featured on various high-profile websites like the Huffington Post, Newsarama and others, most recently the Hunger Games parody sneak peek on EntertainmentWeekly.com. DC’s publicity department has done a great job of giving these exclusive sneak peeks to these sources and garnering some attention for MAD.
So, what do I think? I think MAD is doing a great job with its new online and digital presence, and I am sure we will see it continue to improve as it shows results. I’m sure many people would like to see a digital MAD subscription available outside the Apple platform, for example. I am sure if the iPad version is successful, this step would not be far behind.
Thanks to Grant Jonen for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!
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