Web zines trick readers by recycling old content

Electronic magazines are among the most dynamic content creatures to evolve on the Web; they’re brainy, fun, and, best of all, they mutate with entertaining speed. These days, however, many E-zines are becoming strange- ly stubborn. Though their developers undoubtedly know what a literal pain in the butt it is to read at a computer, they persist in cramping our style.

Instead of depending on the old standbys—sharp writing and simple, direct art—some ‘zines, like the action sports site Charged (www.charged.com), overcompensate with flickering banners and cutesy little Java animations. Maybe Charged, an otherwise nifty destination, should take a few lessons from the satirical ‘zine Suck (www.suck.com). With its lone daily essay on, for example, Pop-Up Video scrolling down the center of the page, Suck has pioneered the essence of the digital quickie: a fast download.

E-zines need to be served up fast and—like good hamburgers—fresh. Unfortunately, on the Web it’s easy to disguise old content as new, a petty cheat that swiftly irritates. Some sites like Gurl (www.gurl.com) simply slap a ”new” button next to stories like the quirky ”Virtual Makeover,” providing no clue when it was posted. The solution: a quick, text-based table of contents like Salon‘s (http://www.salonmag.com); this New Yorker-style ‘zine stamps each feature with a date, so readers can judge whether Camille Paglia’s thoughts on office wear are newly baked or downright stale.

Fixing these problems isn’t just a matter of aesthetics, it’s a prerequisite for survival. According to a recent study of online ad revenue by Jupiter Communications, a New York media research firm, not a single Net-only ‘zine ranks among the top 50 Internet publications. If E-zines want to stay in business, they need to do something to entice readers to stick around and read, not just surf through or crash.