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?
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